Features and Stories

John and Annie Glenn, Heroes in their Own Right

John Glenn and his wife Annie listening to an award speech given in their honor. Photo credit: Columbus Dispatch
John and Annie Glenn, Heroes in their Own Right
Bernadine Racoma

Former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn passed away on Thursday, December 8 at age 95. He is survived by his wife, Annie, two children and two grandchildren. He was the last of the original astronauts of Mercury 7 who launched the space program of the United States.

Accomplished man

Glenn, a revered son of Ohio, was hailed as a national hero. A marine pilot who was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he was America’s third man in space after Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. However, he was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, circling it three times in a flight that lasted for five hours. At age 77, he became the oldest man to travel in space, as part of the 7-man crew of Space Shuttle Discovery. He was with the crew to study the effect of space flight on elderly persons.

He held four terms of office as a senator, from December 24, 1974 to January 3, 1999, representing the State of Ohio.

Great loss

National leaders have expressly sent their heartfelt condolences to Glenn’s family. Most of them are saddened by the passing of a national hero, who’s fully supportive of the space program and space research. He was also an advocate of public service and had established the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at Ohio State University. It became the John Glenn School of Public Affairs after merging with the university’s School of Public Policy and Management in 2006. In early 2015, it became the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

There is still no news about the cause of death. Glenn had a heart valve replacement surgery at Cleveland Clinic in June 2014. He was hospitalized at the beginning of December 2016 at OSU Wexner Medical Center’s James Cancer Hospital for various health issues. Despite being confined at a hospital specializing in cancer treatment, it was mentioned that he did not have cancer.

Example of great love

John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio but grew up in New Concord, where he first met the woman who would become his future wife, Anna Margaret Castor or Annie while they were still toddlers. Despite her speech handicap, Glenn married Annie on April 6, 1943. Annie stuttered and was shy during public appearances, because she cannot speak clearly. She said that she suffered humiliation in the past due to her condition and refused interviews and public speeches especially when together with her husband.

Coming out the victor in the end

Annie Glenn disclosed that she harbored fear for a long time – fear for her children. She said she always thought of how she’ll be able to help her children in case of emergency. She feared that she might not even be able to utter a single world if she dialled 911. She had the constant worry that her children will be in extreme danger before she can make people understand what she’s saying. Despite her speech handicap, John Glenn said his wife is definitely the ”rock in their family.”

In an interview in 1980, Annie Glenn said that her stutter was assigned a disability rank of 85 percent because it was very difficult for her to make words come out of her mouth. She did have three speech therapy courses prior to 1962 when John Glenn became a household name.

In 1973, when she was already 53 years old, Annie took an intensive specialized therapy at Hollins College’s Communications Research Institute, which is located in Roanoke, Virginia. It lasted for three weeks, and she and her fellow students spent 11 hours each day pronouncing one-syllable words and concentrating on breathing techniques. After completion of the intensive course, she continuously worked with a speech therapist.

The therapy proved successful and she was able to give a speech in front of 300 women in their state, and was even able to join her husband’s campaign. It became her mission to spread awareness about stuttering and became a spokesperson for The Stuttering Foundation. She also became chairwoman of the National Stuttering Awareness Week.

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