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Annie Glenn battled stuttering her whole life — her challenge became her legacy

Annie Glenn, wife of astronaut and former U.S. senator John Glenn, died of COVID-19 complications on Tuesday morning.
/ Source: TODAY

Annie Glenn, widow of astronaut John Glenn and advocate for those with disabilities and communication disorders, died on Tuesday morning at 100 years old.

According to the Associated Press, Glenn died of "COVID-19 complications" at a nursing home near St. Paul, Minnesota. A virtual memorial service, open to the public, will be conducted online on Saturday, June 6, 2020, at 11 a.m.

As a young woman, Glenn had a severe stutter, which made communication difficult. During a 1998 interview with TODAY, she said that she was a "95, 85% stutterer," which meant that the speech difficulty was present in the majority of her speech.

"It didn't make any difference with (John)," Glenn told TODAY at the time. "He's helped me all my life."

Mr. And Mrs. John Glenn Portrait
U.S. Senator John Glenn and his wife Annie Glenn pose in 1984 at city hall in Tallahassee, Florida.Mickey Adair / Getty Images

In 1973, a TODAY segment inspired Glenn to seek treatment for her stutter. She and her husband were watching the show while a doctor discussed a new method of treatment for stutterers. The three-week program in Roanoke, Virginia would be intense and complex, but she enrolled. During that time, she relearned each letter of the alphabet and was forced to talk to strangers in public, something that she had always feared because of the severity of her stutter.

"Every word that I utter, I am working on my speech," Glenn told NBC's Nightly News in 1983. "It's something that I am going to have to do all of my life."

John Glenn And Annie Glenn
John and Annie Glenn were married for 73 years before his death in 2016. Ralph Morse / Getty Images

As part of the program, Glenn wasn't allowed to call friends or family, including her husband, for the entire three-week course. When it was finally done, she picked up the telephone to call John and was able to speak to him. She reportedly continued to work with the speech therapist who founded the treatment for several more years.

"I just think that I am so lucky or fortunate that I can talk, period," Glenn said in 1983.

That course started her career as an educator and advocate. She became an adjunct professor with the speech pathology department at Ohio State University, and in 1983 received the first national award of the American Speech and Hearing Association for "providing an inspiring model for people with communicative disorders." Four years later, the award was named after her and has been granted to celebrities like James Earl Jones, Julie Andrews and TODAY's own Willie Geist and his father, Bill.

In 1998, Glenn was honored with a Department of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, according to the Associated Press. In 2009, she received an honorary doctorate of public service from Ohio State.

The Glenns were married for 73 years. John Glenn died at 95 in 2016; during his life he was the first American to orbit the Earth and served as a United States senator for the state of Ohio. He completed his final space flight in 1998 at 77 years old.