While most would consider John Glenn’s orbit around Earth to be an act of heroism, the astronaut himself considered his wife’s struggle to overcome a severe stutter to be a much greater feat. Glenn, who married Annie in April 1943, once noted how her perseverance and strength through the years made him love her even more.
With Glenn’s death Thursday at age 95, some of the focus has shifted to his widow, who is now 97. In a 1980 interview, Annie revealed that her stutter was once categorized as an 85 percent disability, meaning that 85 percent of the time she spoke, she could not make the words come out.
When her husband became a household name in 1962, the press that followed proved difficult for Annie, who declined to speak during a Bob Hope special featuring the seven Mercury astronauts’ wives. While she said the producers and others involved were kind, she felt that she had let them down by not even trying. Though at that point she had underwent three speech therapy courses, she felt they hadn’t improved her speech as much as they had helped to boost her self-esteem.
“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.”
She also feared that if something were to happen to her two children, she would be unable to call for help.
“Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use the telephone?” she asked during the interview. “’Hello’ used to be so hard for me to say. I worried that my children would be injured and need a doctor. Could I somehow find the words to get the information across on the phone?”
It wasn’t until she turned 53 that she underwent three weeks of intensive specialized therapy at the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. As one of the programs first 100 students she was enrolled in the program which included 11 hour days spent working on breathing techniques and pronouncing one-syllable words, and continued to work with a speech therapist after completing it.
After her experience at Hollins College, she gave a speech to 300 women in Ohio, and went on to campaign on behalf of her husband who was then running for senator.
In her mission to help spread awareness for others, Annie has served as a spokesperson for The Stuttering Foundation and has chaired National Stuttering Awareness Week. In addition to continuing with a speech therapist, she returned to Hollins twice to explore new research, but has emphasized that the program is not a perfect fit for all.
“The most important part of what’s happened is now I can get my ideas across,” Annie told PEOPLE. “I used to be just a good listener; now I’m a chatterbox. My greatest pride is when I am able to encourage other stutterers to come out of hiding and tackle their problem. I have always had love and been happy. Now I want to help others feel that way too.”
Thank you Annie, for proving to us that with the power of will, anything is possible. I wish you peace during this difficult time, and am keeping you in my prayers today and always, as the country mourns the death of your beloved husband.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.