Annie Glenn, wife of the late astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn who overcame a childhood stutter to become an advocate for others with speech disorders, died Tuesday of complications from COVID-19. She was 100.
Glenn died at a nursing home near St. Paul, Minnesota, where she’d moved in recent years to be near her daughter, said Hank Wilson, a spokesman for the Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also announced Glenn’s death, the latest among centenarians succumbing rapidly to the new coronavirus.
John Glenn died in 2016 following an extraordinary career that included breaking the transcontinental speed record, becoming the first American to orbit Earth and serving as a Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio. At the time of his death, he and Annie had been married 73 years.
The relationship was “the stuff of fairy tales and one of the great love stories of all time,” Dale Butland, the senator’s former speechwriter and chief of staff, said in a statement Tuesday.
“During WWII, the Korean war and two flights into outer space, Annie patiently waited for her John to come home,” Butland said. “Since December of 2016, John’s been patiently waiting for his Annie. Today, they’re both where they always wanted to be: together — for all eternity.”
Annie Glenn was thrust into the spotlight in 1962, when her husband made his famous space flight. She shied away from the media attention because of a severe stutter.
Later, she underwent an intensive program at the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College, now Hollins University, in Roanoke, Virginia, that gave her the skills to control her stutter and to speak in public.
By the time 77-year-old John Glenn returned to space in 1998 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.
Her career in advocacy for those with communication disorders included service on the advisory boards of numerous child abuse and speech and hearing organizations. The Annie Glenn Award was created to honor individuals who overcome a communication disorder.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Annie Glenn “made Ohio proud all her life.”
“Annie will be remembered for her work to lift others up, including those who shared her struggles with communicative disorders,” he said in a statement. “Her passion for helping others, along with a kind spirit and sharp wit, endeared Annie to anyone who met her.”
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine called Glenn “our most beloved Ohioan.”
“She represented all that is good about our country,” he said in a statement.
In 1998, Defense Secretary William Cohen honored Annie Glenn with the Department of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service. He called her “a hero in her own right” and praised her for being “a strong voice for children, speech and communications, and the disabled.”
In 2009, Glenn received an honorary doctorate of public service from Ohio State, where she served as an adjunct professor of speech pathology in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science. The department bestows an Annie Glenn Leadership Award annually.
Glenn was born Anna Margaret Castor on Feb. 17, 1920, in Columbus. She met her husband while they were children growing up in New Concord. She was offered an organ scholarship to The Juilliard School, but World War II began and John proposed — so she decided to stay with him, according to a biography on the Glenn College’s website. The high school sweethearts attended Muskingum College and were married in 1943. They had two children, David and Lyn, who both survive.
The Glenns served on the board of trustees of the college, now Muskingum University, and Annie Glenn was named a distinguished alumni fellow in speech communications at the school.
A virtual memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on June 6, Wilson said. The service will be officiated by the Rev. Amy Miracle, pastor for the Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus. The memorial will be virtual with no parishioners or guests in attendance due to the COVID-19 restrictions.