We all know him from his unmatched accomplishments as a decorated Marine aviator, legendary NASA astronaut, tireless public servant and unparalleled supporter of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. What endears Sen. John Glenn to us most, however, are the personal memories of one-on-one encounters that exemplify the legacy he left for us all.
To commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday on July 18th this year, we asked family and friends of Glenn to share some of their most heartfelt encounters with the senator. Read their firsthand stories of his warmth, dedication and passion.
Gen. Jim Mattis, U.S. Marines
While hosting a parade in honor of his service to our country at the Marine barracks in Washington, D.C., Senator Glenn and I were standing together in the evening shadows. Waiting to be called forward for the ceremony, we silently watched the Marines march into position. His keen eye noting every detail, Colonel Glenn abruptly turned to me and said, “I spent 23 years in the Marine Corps. It wasn’t long enough.”
Over two decades, yet not long enough? For me, his reflection captured the spirit of the Marines in a way I could never put in words. Such a thought, coming from an “ace” Marine fighter pilot, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, and a senator whose name alone was his passport to the trust of his fellow citizens, brought home to me the pride and nobility of service to our great nation with its enduring promise of always improving.
I was fortunate to call John Glenn a friend for 16 years. It wasn’t long enough.
Gen. Jim Mattis, U.S. Marines (ret.); 26th U.S. Secretary of Defense
One time when I was 16 years old, I asked my father if I could take our family's brand-new car, a Chevrolet Corvair, out for a short drive. Everything was going fine until I misjudged how fast I was going as I approached a stop sign where another car was stopped. I locked up the brakes and slid into the car in front of me while I was still going 20-25 mph. Nobody was hurt, and damage to the other car was minimal, but it caved in the front of our car about 10 inches — though was still drivable. Those Corvairs had soft front ends, and the result was both headlights wound up pointing inward!
One of the most anxious times of my young life was the drive home to show my father what had happened to our new car. And one of my most amazing memories is that he did NOT freak out. He was quite calm. He just asked if anyone was hurt and about damage to the other car. Then he explained what would have to be done for repairs and insurance, and that was that. He was such a kind father to my sister and me.
David Glenn, son of Sen. John Glenn
For many years, Mother said she wanted to live to be 100 — and she did. I never heard Dad say he wanted to live to be 100. I did hear him repeatedly say, “You have to keep going to keep going.” And he did keep going, present with us until shortly before he died. He taught me to drive, to water ski and snow ski, to harmonize as we sang together, to eat ice cream leaving a little on the spoon for a second bite. And so much more. Many dads teach these lessons to their children.
But Dad also spoke about the importance of protecting the dignity of another person; his belief in our country and asked, “What did you do for your country today?”; writing a list of pros and cons before making a decision; the importance of curiosity; how much is enough; we might not have much but we can still share with others; and don’t let a wounded animal suffer. And so much more.
I am so grateful “He was just my dad.”
Lyn Glenn, daughter of Sen. John Glenn
Eileen P. Bradner
When Sen. John Glenn passed away, my daughter’s social media post said simply: “John Glenn cared about my mother, and he cared about me. I will be forever grateful to this kind, brave legend who served our country with honor.” Indeed, we were both fortunate to know Sen. Glenn and his wife, Annie. He supported me in my career and my personal life, even long after I left his Senate staff for other opportunities.
I am forever grateful for the kindness he displayed when I adopted my daughter from an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Sen. Glenn put a box next to the coffee machine and encouraged staff to donate supplies for the orphanage, which I was required to bring with me. The staff was so generous that I filled an oversized Army duffle bag.
An attempted coup delayed my trip until the political situation in Russia stabilized. Sen. Glenn wrote a “letter of safe passage,” personally vouching for my reputation and character. Although I ended up not needing it, it sure made me feel better to have it with me.
When I arrived back in the U.S. with Megan Ksenia, Sen. Glenn hosted a baby shower for us in his office. The senator gave Megan a pewter baby cup with a handwritten card, “To Megan: With best regards, and Welcome Aboard!” He was welcoming her to the Glenn staff family, one that would surround both of us with love and support for many years.
Eileen P. Bradner, staff, Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1980-1985, and Legislative Assistant in Senate Office, 1985-1988
Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr.
Sen. John Glenn and his wife, Annie, were very special human beings who became incredible role models for my wife, Jackie, and me through their example of undying love for each other.
As we celebrate what would have been the senator’s 100th birthday, I think back to my time serving as the deputy commander of U.S. Forces Japan in Tokyo when Sen. Glenn and his STS-95 crew came to Japan and took the country by storm. All the Japanese wanted to meet this American hero from the Korean War who, at age 77, had ventured back into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery with their countrywoman Dr. Chiaki Mukai. He was graceful, humble and the perfect ambassador for the U.S. and NASA.
When I returned to NASA in 2009 as the 12th administrator, he was one of the first to reach out to me with encouragement and invaluable counsel, never hesitating to speak quite candidly in our conversations but never wavering in support of NASA and me.
I do so miss him and his example, but even more, I miss the couple who shared the most endearing love affair for four months short of 74 years — John and Annie Glenn.
Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., U.S. Marine (ret.); former NASA administrator
As the founding director of the school (now college), I did not know what Sen. Glenn's desire for involvement with the school would be. He was so active with so many things in the federal government, in politics and with NASA that I did not know if he would have time. Nonetheless, I was delighted to discover how dedicated he was (and Annie, too) in supporting the school.
He was so gracious in willingly doing anything we requested.
Sen. Glenn was deeply committed to the goal of encouraging students to get involved in citizen activities and public service. He eagerly met with students on numerous occasions and shared his experiences and perspectives. I remember one session when he talked with some 70 prospective freshmen who were considering majoring in the school. The way he talked about how his high school civics teacher started him down the path to public service and where that interest led was simply awe inspiring.
Sen. Glenn's humility and humanity, and genuine dedication to public service, touched everyone, as it always did. Every student who heard him felt his passion and understood the importance of public service. Sen. Glenn had that effect on so many who became involved with the school and was invaluable in setting the school on the upward course that it is still on today. He was and is the inspiration for the Glenn College.
Charles Wise, founding director and professor emeritus, John Glenn School of Public Affairs