Annie Glenn Dies At Age 100, Four Years After The Love Of Her Life

May 19, 2020
Originally published on May 20, 2020 2:32 pm

The one thing I will always remember about Annie and John Glenn is that I never saw them together when they were not holding hands.

Theirs was a magnificent, epic love story.

It began in the tiny eastern Ohio college town of New Concord; survived two wars in which her husband fought bravely as a fighter pilot; lasted through the strains and pressures of John being one of the original Mercury astronauts; through Annie's struggles with a severe stutter that she overcame with monumental perseverance and a second lifetime as Ohio's most beloved political couple.

Until death do they part. John passed away in 2016 at the age of 95; his beloved Annie passed away Tuesday night of COVID-19 complications at a nursing home in Minnesota at the age of 100.

They had known each other all their lives. They even shared a play pen as toddlers when their parents got together for card games. They were married in the chapel at Muskingum College in New Concord, just before he was shipped out to become a brand-new Marine Corps fighter pilot.

I met John and Annie Glenn in 1974 when I was a kid reporter working for The Post, the student newspaper at Ohio University, and Glenn was in the middle of his successful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio. It was one of the highest profile Senate races in the country; Glenn was constantly being courted by the biggest names in American journalism.

But John and Annie Glenn both treated me with kindness and respect; John was particularly interested in the fact that I came from Dayton, the birthplace of aviation, and we talked quite a while about Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Ten years later, I was the politics writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, and John Glenn was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I was sent to New Hampshire to cover the primary, with an emphasis on following John and Annie Glenn from town to town. By the time I got there, Glenn's campaign had already jumped the tracks and was reeling out of control.

When I finally caught up with John and Annie in the southern New Hampshire town of Nashua, he was putting on a brave face, but I could tell he knew his campaign was in deep trouble.

Annie, one of the kindest, most gentle people I have met in politics, probably put it best when she stopped at the Small World Day Care Center in South Nashua to greet parents as they picked up their kids.

"All you can do is grit your teeth and keep going,'' Mrs. Glenn told me.

Her husband was up in Keene, N.H., that day, but he joined his wife the next morning in Nashua, where the Glenn campaign had arranged for a free lunch, open to all, at a Nashua VFW hall.

John and Annie Glenn were gracious hosts, greeting all the hungry voters and sharing a lunch with them.

"We're waiting for a miracle,'' Annie told me. "We're going to need it."

It was not to be. The Glenn campaign for the presidency ended there.

I spent some time with them at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and it was there that I found out just how tough Annie Glenn could be.

The convention was held at the United Center, Chicago's basketball and hockey arena.

I had a space in the press gallery, but I often picked up a temporary floor pass to go down among the Ohio delegates. I did that one night. The floor at the United Center was extremely crowded; I had to elbow my way through a mass of humanity to get to the Ohio delegation. I made it there, and I could see John and Annie Glenn on the other side of the aisle, surrounded by well-wishers taking photos.

There was a TV videographer who had one of those massive video cameras they used in those days perched on his shoulder. He, too, was trying to fight his way through the crowd. He was standing next to Annie when he suddenly swung around and smacked her in the head with this heavy metal camera.

Annie dropped to the floor; she was out cold. The videographer looked down at her, but kept going. People cleared a space; a doctor in the delegation was attending to her and a security man on the floor was calling for a stretcher. With John at her side, she was carried out of the arena and made a stop at a local hospital to be checked out.

Somehow, she was back at the Ohio delegation breakfast the next morning.

Everyone in the delegation, including the Ohio press corps, were concerned about her, but she waved it off.

"Just a hard-headed Buckeye girl,'' she said, as John stood by, rolling his eyes.

I don't think I saw Annie and John again until Feb. 20, 1997 – the 35th anniversary of John's Mercury orbital flight.

I was up before dawn and gulping down coffee as I drove the nearly 175 miles from Cincinnati to New Concord, Ohio, the tiny village in the rolling hills of eastern Ohio where John and Annie grew up, fell in love, and began their 73 years of married life.

For me, it was something of a sad trip. I knew what was going to happen when I got there. 

Brown Chapel on the campus of Muskingum College was filled with old friends, fellow politicians, colleagues from the space program and a small army of reporters and photographers.

All there for one purpose – to hear the then-75 Glenn announce that he would not be running for a fifth term in the Senate.

You could hear the ambivalence in his voice.

"There is nothing I might wish for more than to declare my candidacy – here in my hometown – for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate,'' Glenn said, as I stood in the back of the chapel with Dale Butland, his long-time aide and speechwriter.

"But for all the advances in science and medicine I have supported and have occurred in the 35 years since my orbital flight, one immutable fact remains – there is no cure for the common birthday."

After the speech, as John and Annie Glenn walked across campus to a private reception, their daughter, Lyn Glenn, a child psychologist from St. Paul, Minn., said it was not an easy decision for her father.

"He's at a point in his life where it is important that he is with my mother and the family, and he has earned that,'' she said. "He was real ambivalent about this decision. He loves what he does."

But, off they want, holding hands – just the way they did when they were young sweethearts at Muskingum in the early 1940s.

More adventures awaited, and they would experience them all, hand in hand.

 

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