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Remembering Annie Glenn, Speech Disorder Advocate And Widow Of Astronaut John Glenn


John Glenn circled the Earth, won combat medals, was a U.S. senator, ran for president and went back into space in his late 70s. He was unreservedly considered a hero.

His hero was his wife of 73 years, Annie Glenn, who died this week of complications of coronavirus. She was 100. As John Glenn once wrote, I saw Annie's perseverance and strength through the years, and it just made me admire her and love her even more. I don't know if I would've had the courage.

Annie Glenn stuttered for much of her life. She and John Glenn were childhood playmates in New Concord, Ohio. And she remembered how she got up to recite a poem in a grade-school class and the words just stayed in her throat. A classmate laughed. She was bright, wise and funny, but because she stuttered for most of her life, Annie Glenn couldn't talk on the phone, tell a joke, order coffee or ask for directions. Hello used to be so hard for me to say, she once wrote in People magazine. I worried that my children would be injured and need a doctor. Could I somehow find the words to get the information across on the phone? I can remember some very painful experiences, especially the ridicule.

But at the age of 53, Annie Glenn found a program at Hollins University in Virginia that was able to help her speak. She couldn't see her family for three weeks until the course was done, but when she called and said hello on the phone, John Glenn, who had seen the Earth from space, cried. The woman who once couldn't talk without stuttering began to speak tirelessly across the country on behalf of those with speech challenges, calling for people to recognize the courage and ingenuity they use to navigate the world.

I got to meet Annie Glenn a few times. She could have a sharp wit to make jokes only she could. She said when John was a test pilot, she worried the phone might ring to bring bad news of an accident but she wouldn't be able to talk, so whoever called might say, guess it's the wrong number, and just hang up.

It is sad to think of this lively person living to 100 but, like so many people in this time of the coronavirus, having to die in a nursing home without the touch and embrace of her family, even as she was beloved by so many. Annie Glenn found her voice, and then she raised it for others.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMOCK'S "SAUDADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.