Amy Johnson's "letter to the editor" published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer (posted to Stutt-l, November 12, 1998
"While John Glenn may be a true American hero, his wife, Annie, is just as much a hero to many people who stutter.
Ten years ago, I joined the National Stuttering Project, the largest self-help organization for people who stutter, with more than 60 local chapters. At that time, the NSP cleveland Chapter was formed. For the first time in my life, I did not feel alone because I stuttered, and the support of the NSP helped me to grow in confidence and reach out to others who stutter. Four years ago, I chaired the NSP's 11th Annual Convention in Cleveland in June 1994. It was dedicated to Annie Glenn, and more than 400 people attended from all over the country to hear her speak.
Annie Glenn is a powerful example of courage and determination. Her keynote speech inspired all with her message of strength and hope for those who face the daily challenge of ordinary speech.
It may have taken a great deal of courage for John Glenn to return to space, but Annie Glenn is courageous each and every day of her life. Annie Glenn is a hero."
From Stephen B. Hood, Ph.D., Speech-Language Pathologist, and NSP member, Mobile, Alabama
What a great day for Senator John Glenn, and what an upgrade in stature as he went from being referred to as "Senator Glenn" back to the early day's when he was simply referred to as "Astronaut John." Nothing can or should detract from his accomplishments. Nevertheless, there is another hero: Annie Glenn. Back in 1962 Annie Glenn shunned interviews and infuriated Vice President Lyndon Johnson when she refused to talk with him and refused interviews with the media. She was portrayed as being distant and aloof. NOT SO. It was Mrs. Glenn's severe stuttering problem that kept her from fully participating. Now, 36 years later, Mrs. Glen is an accomplished communicator, in spite of the residuals of her formerly severe problems with stuttering. Her courage in general, and her courage and bravery with speaking in public situations, should not be taken lightly, nor should it be overlooked. Today was especially historic not only for John -- but especially for Annie, who communicated so effectively, in spite of the pressures and stresses involved. To John and Annie, I say this: You have reached for the sky and each of you captured a star.
I was actually early for a flight out of Dulles Airport. It was a Sunday afternoon, July 1991. I was going on a business trip that I really was not thrilled to get on. Walking down the terminal, out of the corner of my eye -- could it be -- John Glenn? I would KNOW it was John Glenn, if ANNIE was there too! Circle back, walk past the same place again, YES, it was John and Annie Glenn sitting waiting for a flight. Now I'm walking away from my gate... I turn around and walk by again. Would I have the nerve? "Ok, ya gotta do it," I tell myself. "Are you John Glenn?" I ask. "Why yes I am, and what is your name?" Terror strikes the soul and all concepts of fluent, smooth speech leaves my body. My name eventually comes out. I extend my hand to Annie, and say, "Guess I don't need to tell you about me!" Losing all sense of shame, I sat next to them and we had a wonderful 10 minute conversation. My biggest problem was: who do you talk to, America's hero or your own hero! Both were as charming and nice as you can imagine.
A year later, we invited Annie to keynote our Spring 1992 Regional Workshop in Bethesda, MD and after I thanked her at the end of her talk, she kissed me on the cheek! I have 130 witnesses and a photo to prove it!
Godspeed, John and Annie Glenn!
I still have the original newspaper clippings of John Glenn's flight in '62! A sixth grade science project that just never got thrown out. My memory of that day is like no other for me: for some reason I was home from school and could watch the whole thing on TV. When Annie finally came out of her house to speak to the reporters and I heard her stutter I thought I would just burst. Here for six years I had thought I was the only one to talk like I did. And here, on national TV was another -- and a woman to boot -- who also struggled to talk. It was one of those major moments in one's life that you can just not ever forget.
As a result of the experience I was privileged to serve as the "qj" (question jockey?) for Annie when she was the keynote speaker at the Cleveland NSP in 1994. That was my first appearance in front of such a large audience and a major stretch for me at the time. I was painfully frightened up until I was actually up there. Now, I look forward to opportunities to speak in front of groups all over the world. And, it's only four years later. Amazing how quickly we can change when we finally just get out of our own way.
MY HERO, ANNIE GLENN
by Marty Jezer
Sometime today, if everything goes A-OK, John Glenn will be orbiting the earth in the space shuttle Discovery.
Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the earth, is our country's last great hero. The outpouring of affection and excitement for Glenn after his first flight in space was as unexpected as it was authentic.
The space program, when initiated, had many goals -- the least of which was space exploration. It was, first, a very expensive Cold War ploy to beat the Russians in space. More importantly, it was a New Deal-like public works program for scientists, engineers, and skilled blue collar workers that worked. Thirdly, it was a public relations strategy to stir patriotism -- and, for a time, it did.
Though not a fan of the space program, I did see Glenn with his fellow astronauts and their families in the ticker tape parade in New York. I remember, despite myself, the tears of joy I shed as our hero passed by. I felt -- we all felt -- inspired by his feat, that good times were coming on.
How innocent I was and how desperate we were, as a country, for something to believe in. This was the beginning of the Kennedy Era: Our youthful idealism, a new frontier, would soon be squandered in the jungles of Vietnam.
The space story was a wonderful p.r. job. The astronauts sold the rights to their story to Time-Life which airbrushed and censored out everything human and interesting about them. The astronaut families were portrayed as adults in a 1950's TV family sitcom - - seemingly perfect, and oh so boring. In reality, one astronaut couple was separated; some of the astronauts were boozers and womanizers; one, Scott Carpenter, played the guitar, sang folk songs, and entertained deep thoughts. And then there were the Glenns, in every way perfect except for one fact that was hidden from the public. Annie, John's wife, stuttered.
I, too, stutter as do millions of others, but none of us has ever been in the position that Ms. Glenn was when her husband orbited the earth and became a national hero.
What makes stuttering unique is that it's easy to hide. All one has to do to not stutter is to not talk. Annie Glenn kept silent all through school, as did I and most every other stutterer I know. Anything, even playing dumb, was better than exposing ourselves as flawed speakers. Stuttering, we then all believed, was an affliction of shame -- not necessarily in the judgement of listeners, but worse, in the judgement we made about ourselves. As wife of a hero, Annie Glenn was going to have to expose her shameful secret; she would have to appear on TV and remain embarrassingly silent or show her stutter to the entire world.
For a while the astronauts and their wives protected her secret by talking for her. The denouement came when John was is his space capsule counting down to blast-off and Lyndon Johnson, then Vice President and desperate for publicity, was demanding to bring network TV crews into her house so he could be shown watching the launching with her.
I can imagine the fear Annie Glenn felt in this situation: under pressure from LBJ to go on national TV and face humiliation. She was saved, as the story goes (see, e.g., Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff), by her husband who demanded that NASA keep LBJ and the TV crews away. But what was Annie Glenn to do? Her husband was in the limelight. She couldn't forever play the wife who never uttered a public word. Ms. Glenn did extensive speech therapy and learned to control -- though not totally overcome -- her stuttering. More important, she got up the courage to accept herself as a person with less than perfect speech and to become a public advocate, giving speeches and interviews, for people with disabilities. With John orbiting in Discovery, she'll be a frequent presence in the media, talking about her husband's flight and, I'm sure, her battle to overcome her shame of stuttering.
Big changes have taken place since John Glenn first went up into space and public relations experts deemed human flaws to be unfit for public consumption. Now we all know (and if we don't, we should) that there's no one of us who's perfect. We all have imperfections and disabilities, some large, some small, but none worth keeping secret to fester as shame.
John Glenn is a pioneer in space; Annie Glenn is a pioneer to all of us who have struggled to overcome the shame of a disability. I admire John for his skill, determination, and bravery in space. I admire Annie even more because she has transformed herself into a role model who refuses to stay silent or be hidden.
Copyright 1998 by Marty Jezer
added July 22, 1999