Speech advocate Annie Glenn, astronaut's wife, dies at 100

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1983 AP

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 1983 file photo, Annie Glenn speaks during an interview in Newport, N.H. Glenn, the widow of astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn and a communication disorders advocate, died Tuesday, May 19, 2020, of COVID-19 complications at a nursing home near St. Paul, Minn., at age 100. (AP Photo/File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Annie Glenn, who was thrust into the spotlight in 1962 when her husband became the first American to orbit the Earth, but who shied away from the media attention because of a severe stutter that later moved her to advocate for people with speech disorders, died Tuesday. She was 100.

Glenn died of complications from COVID-19 at a nursing home near St. Paul, Minnesota, where she had moved in recent years to be near her daughter, said Hank Wilson, a spokesman for the Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. NASA later announced her death.

Her husband, John Glenn, died in 2016 after an extraordinary life that also included breaking the transcontinental speed record and serving as a Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio. He and Annie were married for 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 written statement Tuesday.

“During WW II, 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.”

At age 53 in 1973, she enrolled in 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 the space shuttle Discovery, she showed she had become comfortable in her public role when she acknowledged she had reservations about her husband's newest 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.