Annie Glenn, who was first known as the wife of astronaut and politician John Glenn Jr., became a hero in her own right after she overcame a speech impediment and emerged as an advocate for people with disabilities.
Annie Glenn died early Tuesday. She was 100.
Ohio State University said Annie Glenn had moved to a senior living facility near her daughter, Lyn, and died of complications from COVID-19.
Annie Glenn didn’t realize the extent of her stuttering problem until she failed to recite a poem in her sixth grade class. She was an 85% stutterer, meaning she got hung up on 85% of her words. She lived in fear of basic tasks, such as using the telephone or going shopping.
Five decades later, she attended a fluency shaping institute in Roanoke, Virginia, where she re-learned how to speak.
“I was like a butterfly let out of a cocoon,” she told Dayton area students in 2001. She used her personal story to draw attention to speech impediments.
She had been an adjunct professor in the Speech Pathology Department at Ohio State University and in 1987, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association created a national award, “The Annie,” to recognize those who exemplify Glenn’s spirit.
“Annie Glenn was a special kind of public hero. She conquered her own personal challenge – her speech impediment – and appropriately used her position as the spouse of a prominent public person to help advocate for others who struggled as she did. She was also just a really warm and nice person. We’ll miss her as much as we do Senator Glenn,” said Trevor Brown, the dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.
Gov. Mike DeWine ordered flags to fly at half-staff in Muskingum County — where the Glenns grew up — and at the Ohio Statehouse in her honor.
“Annie Glenn was certainly our most most beloved Ohioan. She represented all that is good about our country. And, it is impossible to imagine John Glenn without Annie, and Annie without John. They grew up together and their life-long love story was inspiring to us all,” DeWine said.
“Ohio lost a great treasure today in Annie Glenn. She stood strong for what she believed in and was a tireless advocate for those who needed a voice. She and John are Ohio-born heroes who we will never forget,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.
The couple lived a storybook life. They met as toddlers in a playpen in New Concord, where their parents were friends. They were married in their hometown on April 6, 1943.
John Glenn joined the Marines and flew a combined 149 missions in World War II and the Korean War, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross six times. He became a test pilot and in 1957 set the transcontinental record, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes.
In April 1959, NASA selected him as one of the first seven astronauts in the Project Mercury space program. At 9:47 a.m. Feb. 20, 1962 — after the Soviets had put a man into outer space — Glenn was strapped in atop an Atlas rocket with 367,000 pounds of thrust, blasting the Ohioan and the Friendship 7 capsule off the Cape Canaveral launch pad and into orbit 162 miles above the earth.
Throughout his career as a combat pilot, the couple would deal with the many goodbyes by having John Glenn say he was only going to the store for chewing gum, Annie Glenn would respond, “Don’t take too long.”
Annie Glenn’s kind spirit and sharp wit end her to anyone who met her, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said.
“Annie Glenn has made Ohio proud all her life — as an advocate, a philanthropist, a mother and partner and as a friend,” Brown said. “Annie will be remembered for her work to lift others up, including those who shared her struggles with communicative disorders.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said the Glenns have served as a role model for him and his wife, as well as many other Ohioans.
“Her service to our state and advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, particularly those with speech disabilities, combined with John’s legacy as an American hero and Ohio’s longest-serving United States Senator have made them a couple that will live forever in Ohio history,” Portman said.
When John Glenn was asked in 2011 what achievement he was most proud of — combat duty in World War II and Korea, two flights as an astronaut or four terms in the U.S. Senate — he answered: “I guess being married 68 years is a pretty high objective these days.”
They appeared together well into their 90s, usually holding hands.
John Glenn Jr., died in December 2016 at age 95.
The Glenns had two children, Lyn and Dave, and two grandchildren.
“Annie Glenn may be best known as John’s wife — but she was enormously accomplished in her own right. A gifted musician who turned down a scholarship at Juilliard to marry her childhood sweetheart, she not only overcame a severe stutter, but later became a fierce champion and eloquent spokesperson for those who suffer from speech impediments,” said Dale Butland, who worked in Glenn’s Senate office for 20 years.
He described their love story the stuff of fairy tales.
“For those who knew and loved them, it simply wasn’t possible to think of one without the other … Since December of 2016, John’s been patiently waiting for his Annie,” Butland said. “Today, they’re both where they always wanted to be: together — for all eternity. God speed, Annie Glenn.”
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