In July 1995, just a year after returning to my home state of Minnesota after 20 years in Europe, I had my first personal encounter with John and Annie Glenn.
It was my 50th birthday and I was having a few friends over for a party. So when the telephone rang, I expected one of my guests was going to ask directions or tell me she’d be late to the party. Imagine my surprise when the voice at the end of the line said, “This is John Glenn.” My first thought was , “Ya, right, someone was pulling a birthday prank on me.”
Still, I asked unbelievably, “’THE’ John Glenn?!” “Yes,” he responded quite jovially. Someone who knew me had shared with him that it was my birthday. “My wife, Annie and I heard it was your birthday, so we thought we’d call and sing you Happy Birthday.” You could have pushed me over with a feather.
They dove into singing the song with gusto and in harmony. We chatted a little more, but I was so excited I can’t remember what we discussed.
Little did I know then that our paths would cross in person a few months later in Washington D.C. I had never been to the nation’s capital. So I jumped at the opportunity to accompany my sister and a friend when they invited me to go along. While they were attending different meetings, I walked, took the Metro, visited museums and explored. It was one of the most memorable weeks ever.
When Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, learned that we were visiting D.C., he invited us to come to his office and promised us not only a tour of the Senate Chambers (including a behind the scenes view rarely seen by regular tourists), he would also take us to lunch at the famous Senate restaurant.
Glenn had gained worldwide fame on Feb. 20, 1962, when he became the first American to orbit Earth — three times — for 4 hours and 56 minutes in the tiny Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7, which is now housed in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
After meeting with Sen. Glenn in his office, during which each one of the three of us was able to speak about what was important to us, he took us to lunch, where we enjoyed the Senate restaurant’s famous, tasty bean soup, and then on a Senate Chambers tour. He even took us “behind the scenes” and showed us the table on which the Declaration of Independence was signed 244 years ago this July 4. We were even allowed to put our hands on the table. What a thrill!
Our special time with Sen. Glenn resulted in an incredibly generous invitation the following day to join him and Annie on their custom built yacht, Pura Vida, for an entire day on Chesapeake Bay.
We finally met Annie the next day when they picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. You would never have guessed that we were in the presence of one of the most famous persons in the world and his most gracious, diminutive wife, who was a giant in her own right as a champion who advocated nationally for years for people with communication disorders.
We spent the day relaxing, taking in the gorgeous sights of Chesapeake Bay. Later, the yacht was moored while we relished a delicious meal of crab legs at one of their favorite restaurants on the bay. Joined by the crew for lunch, we were even able to take home the small wooden mallets used to break open the crabs. Back on board, we received a thorough tour of their precious Pura Vida and I was even allowed to steer the boat for a while (under the watchful eyes of the captain).
Oh, my! While I’d had sailing holidays on 36-feet sailboats in Greece’s Ionian Islands a few times, that was incomparable to their three-story water craft that included two large salons, four staterooms and a two-man, full-time, year-around crew. I will always remember that special day with fondness for the generosity of the Glenns.
Annie, a quiet, gracious 42-year-old mother of two was propelled into the world’s spotlight after her husband’s space flight. A lifelong stutterer, she had avoided speaking in public. Eventually, she would completely overcome stuttering. “She underwent an intensive program at the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College in Roanoke, Va., that gave her the skills to control her stutter and to speak in public,” according to an article in the Star Tribune this week. That day, she shared with us about her experience overcoming her stutter.
Sen. John Glenn died in 2016. He and Annie had been married for 73 years. I was saddened to learn about Annie’s death from COVID-19 May 19 in an Arden Hills, Minn., retirement home. She lived to be 100 years old. She was the most gracious person I have ever met.