Skip to Main Content

Annie Glenn: Portrait of Resilience

News Type College News

For more than five decades, Annie wrestled with the burden of a stutter. She was categorized as an 85% speech impediment, meaning she would become “hung up on 85% of the words she tried to speak, which was a severe handicap,” as Sen. John Glenn put it. She knew that every time she wanted to speak, something could and usually did go awry. She lived in fear of the simple tasks most people take for granted — using the telephone, taking public transportation and going shopping. After many years of failed therapy, Annie discovered a program at Hollins University in the 1970s that helped eliminate her faltering speech. 

The metamorphosis that followed allowed her to blossom into a champion for those with communication disorders. She publicly shared her personal story to draw attention to these little-understood speech impediments. Annie was an adjunct professor of speech pathology at The Ohio State University’s Department of Speech and Hearing Science. In 1987, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association created a national award, called the “Annie Glenn Award,” or “The Annie,” to recognize individuals who best exemplify her invincible spirit by making a positive impact on those with communication disorders. Recipients have included James Earl Jones, then-Vice President Joseph Biden, Julie Andrews, Mick Fleetwood and Jane Seymour (pictured below, receiving the award from Annie Glenn). 

“Annie Glenn was a special kind of public hero. She conquered her own personal challenge — her speech impediment — and appropriately used her position as the spouse of a prominent public person to help advocate for others who struggled as she did. She was also just a really warm and nice person,” said Trevor Brown, dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, said at the time of her death. 

Annie Glenn presents Jane Seymour with "The Annie"

Annie’s incredible strength of character would always shine through. 

That resilience provoked expressions of amazement from people like Herb Asher, who was the first interim director of the John Glenn Institute.  

“When you know her life story and her problems with stuttering and you hear the adjustments they had to make, you just say ‘Oh my goodness, how did she get through it?’” said Asher. “I can’t imagine what she went through in terms of being in the public eye, not being able to participate like you and me, and overcoming that.” 

Annie’s speech problems forced her to adopt many strategies to cope publicly. She provided written directions to cab and bus drivers and descriptive lists to store associates. Annie referred to the telephone as “an instrument of the devil,” so the family always ensured a neighbor was near in case of an emergency when John was away. 

Like others who stutter, Annie was not immune to the cruel jokes and laughter directed toward her. She always stood her ground, however, a truth well recognized by her husband who wrote: “I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength through the years, and it just made me admire her and love her even more. It takes guts to operate with a disability; I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do all the things that Annie did so well.”  

After many years of enduring failed treatments, Annie had reached her 50s before learning about The Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Va. 

“While other programs treat stuttering as an emotional or psychological issue, Hollins sees the condition as a physical disorder, and therapists work with patients to isolate the particulars of speech muscle movements,” said Dr. Ronald Webster, founder and president of the institute. “Annie was a model student during the three weeks of the 11-hour-per-day classes she took in 1973, and the treatment vastly improved her speech. In a final exercise, she called John Glenn at home and told him that for the first time in her life she had gone shopping and was able to ask for things.”  

In his memoir, Glenn wrote that he had never heard her speak so many words without a single pause. Their lives were transformed. Glenn recalled one of her first sentences upon returning home: “John, I’ve wanted to tell you this for years — pick up your socks.” 

Those who met Annie describe her as a sensitive, humble person who was very generous with her time and involvement in community service for communication disorder organizations. But most often, she was found by her husband’s side. The couple remained devoted to one another until his death in 2016 and never hesitated to jump into the car for long road trips to spend more time together, especially after John retired from the Senate. That unwavering faithfulness did not go unnoticed. 

In 2009, The Ohio State University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree (photo, top of page) to recognize her work and humanitarian efforts for adults and children suffering from this debilitating disorder. 

For many years, Annie served as a guest lecturer for graduate student courses in Ohio State’s Department of Speech and Hearing Science.  

“She was very open about her stuttering,” said JoAnn Donohue, then assistant clinic director of Speech and Hearing Services at the university. “She (was) such an inspiration and had this wonderful ability to communicate on any level, whether it was a 4-year-old or a teenager who was very upset and embarrassed about their speech. One such awestruck teen, emerging from a meeting, swore he’d never wash his hand again after Annie shook it.” 

“Annie’s involvement … made a big difference for students,” said Rebecca McCauley, a former professor at the Department of Speech and Hearing Science. “She was incredibly inspirational to students, many who had not had that much contact with people who stutter.” 

Annie was also a dedicated and supportive friend. 

“While she inspired many with communication disorders to seek treatment, her caring personality went way beyond disability issues,” said Cheryl Brown, widow of former Ohio Attorney General Bill Brown. The Glenns were long-time friends of the Browns, and Cheryl’s husband had a special connection to Annie due to his childhood stuttering handicap.  

“I saw how difficult it was for her early on, and I saw the improvement she made. She had this incredible ability to not lose focus on a person she was talking to for as long as that person wanted to talk,” said Brown, who added that Annie was there for her after her husband died, staying in regular contact while other friends faded away. “Her biggest gift to me was her strength of character because I was flat out when Bill died. She, too, is an American hero.” 

Annie received the Glenn College Outstanding Public Service Award in 2017 (photo, above).

Annie Glenn: An amazing life 
In this 2010 video, Annie Glenn shares some of the highlights of her life.