Annie Glenn, the widow of astronaut and US Sen. John Glenn who became an inspiration to people with disabilities around the globe by overcoming a severe stutter, died Tuesday at age 100.
Glenn died of complications from the coronavirus at a nursing home near St. Paul, Minnesota, said Hank Wilson, a spokesman for the Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.
Her husband died at age 95 in 2016, when the two had been married for 73 years.
Annie, as everyone knew her, was thrust into the spotlight in 1962, when her husband became the first American to orbit Earth — but she shied away from the spotlight because of her stutter as he became a household name.
She underwent an intensive program at the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College — now Hollins University –in Roanoke, Virginia, and learned how to speak in public while controlling her impediment.
Annie was born Anna Margaret Castor in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 17, 1920, and her father, a dentist, moved the family to New Concord when she was 3.
After moving to New Concord when she was 3, her parents joined a monthly card club that included John Glenn’s parents, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Annie Glenn and John GlennGetty Images
She and her future husband, who was 17 months her junior, shared a playpen – and the rest was history.
Despite her speech impediment, Annie was a top student and was readily accepted in her community, but in the sixth grade she experienced her first hint of the humiliation when a student laughed at her as she recited a poem in class.
“I realized I was not normal,” Annie told The Dispatch in 2007. “I was lucky to have grown up where I was accepted. When I went out in the world, even to Zanesville and Cambridge, I had a lot of hurt feelings. I knew I was loved and accepted in New Concord.”
In junior high, the spark ignited between Annie and John, who both stayed home to attend Muskingum College, where she pursued a music degree because she played the organ and could sing without stuttering.
Before heading off to flight training Pacific in the Marine Corps and then combat in the South Pacific during World War II, John gave Annie an engagement ring before she went to Dayton in search of a job.
“I had to write out where I wanted to go and I handed it to the bus driver,” she remembered, according to the Dispatch.
“He thought I was deaf. He wrote back how much money I needed. Lots of people thought when my jaws sort of started shaking (as she tried to talk) that I was cold. Lots of people would turn their backs and walk away from me. I have been laughed at many times,” she said.
On Feb. 20, 1962, John gained immorality in his historic orbital flight aboard Friendship 7. By that time, the couple had a son, David, and a daughter, Lyn.
But Annie felt the weight of her husband’s celebrity as she struggled with her stuttering, which led him to refuse to receive Vice President Lyndon Johnson for a visit at their home, saying his wife had a migraine.
Even so, the NASA couple became good friends with Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird.
When John was unable to campaign for the US Senate in 1964 after a serious fall in his bathroom, Annie bravely hit the road on his behalf, taking along Rene Carpenter, wife of astronaut Scott Carpenter, to be her voice, according to the Dispatch.
After her treatment at the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College, Annie called her husband and for the first time in 53 years, she managed to speak a complete sentence without stuttering. John wept.
Annie Glenn charting one of John Glenn’s flights.The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
By 1984, Annie was delivering speeches across the US on behalf of John’s short-lived presidential candidacy as she devoted herself to helping other people with disabilities.
In 1998, 77-year-old John returned to space aboard space shuttle Discovery.
Annie showed she had become comfortable in her public role when she acknowledged that she had reservations about the retired senator’s second flight.
“John had announced one year before that he was going to retire as a senator, so I was looking forward to having him as my own because I had given him to our government for 55 years,” she told a NASA interviewer.
During her career in advocacy, Annie served on the advisory boards of several child abuse and speech and hearing organizations. The Annie Glenn Award was created to honor people who overcome a communication disorder.
Defense Secretary William Cohen honored her with the Department of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, callingt her “a hero in her own right” and praised her for being “a strong voice for children, speech and communications, and the disabled.”
Annie Glenn touches the casket of husband John Glenn on December 16, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.AFP via Getty Images
In 2009, Annie received an honorary doctorate from Ohio State, where she served as an adjunct professor of speech pathology.
A virtual memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. EST on June 6 by the Rev. Amy Miracle, pastor for the Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus.
With Post wires