Annie Glenn, widow of U.S. senator and pioneering astronaut John Glenn, who fought a speech disorder and became an inspiration for others, died Tuesday from COVID-19.
She was 100 years old and lived in a nursing home in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Glenn wanted to be a schoolteacher but was prevented by her chronic stuttering — a speech impediment that made public speaking almost impossible.
Instead, she opted to study music because she discovered she could sing without stuttering.
"I can remember some very painful experiences — especially the ridicule," she told People magazine in 1980. "People would tell me to hurry up or start shouting at me because they thought I was deaf and dumb."
Annie Glenn had known John Glenn since childhood, and they were married in 1943.
When her husband became internationally famous in 1962 after becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, Glenn avoided the media spotlight because of her stuttering.
Through intensive speech therapy, she overcame her disability. At age 53, she felt confident enough to give a public speech, telling People she rehearsed for three months.
"A new world has opened up for me," she said. "The most important part of what's happened is that now, I can get my ideas across," she said. "I used to be just a good listener. Now, I'm a chatterbox."
John Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and served for 25 years. He also became the oldest person to orbit the Earth when he returned to space in 1998 aboard the space shuttle Discovery. He died in 2016.
The National Association for Hearing and Speech Action has named an award after Annie Glenn for "providing an inspiring model for people with communicative disorders.”
Glenn was a former part-time professor at Ohio State University’s Speech Pathology Department. In 2009, the school awarded her an honorary doctorate in public service and humanitarian work. She is also a member of the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.
"This is a very sad day for all Ohioans," Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday. "Annie Glenn was certainly our most beloved Ohioan. She represented all that is good about our country.”