On a Saturday afternoon in 1993, I watched a movie that forever changed my life. The 1983 movie called “The Right Stuff” is a historical drama that describes the first 15 years of the American space program. The seven men who were accomplished pilots became astronauts, pioneers and national heroes. The man who I found to be particularly intriguing went on to become a United States Senator representing the state of his birth. A man by the name of John Glenn who’s name appeared on an elementary school not far from my home.
This man had an incredible history. He was an accomplished pilot in World War II and later flew in Korea with baseball legend Ted Williams as his wingman. Mr. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, went on to become an executive at Royal Crown Cola Company and elected to the United State Senate. Most of these feats were accomplished before I was even born.
Just a few days ago, I learned of the death of John Glenn which occurred on December 8, 2016. Today, he lies in state at the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda. This sad occasion made me reflect and want to share some of the highlights of working for him. Things that I found interesting and details that you probably would never know unless you had the same experience.
A senior in college at the time, I was deeply inspired by the movie. I called the Senator’s office in Washington and asked if there were any internships available that I might apply for. I indicated that I was very interested in politics, loved computers and was a decent wordsmith for my age. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by Caroline Arnold and after a couple of interviews and essays, I was offered an internship in John Glenn’s Press Office in Cleveland, Ohio.
My duties were fairly simple. I answered phones, listened to and documented the calls of the Senator’s constituents. The calls ranged in topics from abortion to why the Senator should denounce the actions of Sinn Féin of Ireland. The fun part though was the opportunity to respond via written letters to those who wrote in and requested a response.
A common question that was asked by school children was “What was it like to walk on the moon?” Surprisingly, John Glenn did not walk on the moon. He was the first American to orbit the earth in his space capsule named “Friendship 7” on February 20, 1962. I lost track of how many letters in which I had to include that revelation. However, a museum in Dallas has requested the Senator’s thoughts on his orbital flight to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the lunar landing. I had the opportunity of writing the Senator’s response which I believe was on display at the museum. Sometimes it is the idea that is important not necessarily who conveyed that idea.
Each letter I composed on behalf of the Senator was then taken to the autopen machine. What is autopen? It is a machine that mechanically duplicates a person’s signature. I first felt it to be deceptive in nature, but I learned that this machine and practice dates back to the days of Thomas Jefferson. Other users include Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It has been said that President Barrack Obama authorized the use of autopen to extend parts of the Bush tax cut in 2013. In any case, John Glenn was a popular guy and many signed photos went out on a daily basis.
One afternoon I was answering calls when a gentlemen called in. He identified himself as John Glenn and asked that I transfer the call to Ms. Arnold. As a trained call screener, I sarcastically said “Sure this is John Glenn. How can I help you, sir?”. I will never forget the response which was
“This is John Glenn, I am on final approach to Burke Lakefront Airport and will be arriving shortly. With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
I think it was the biggest lump in my throat I had ever felt. However, in true style, the Senator was a good sport and got a kick out of the whole conversation. I guess I should have known that when you are such a high achiever, test pilot, astronaut and national hero, flying a plane for a meeting that you have would be common. That is just what heroes do. In hindsight, as an Intern and at that age, I guess my response was not atypical.
Above all his accomplishments, the one most noticeable aspect about the Senator was his love of his wife Annie. He always mentioned her and was always around her.
The Senator’s office was located at the Federal Building on East 9th and Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland. The winters were brutal. I remember getting frostbite on my ears while waiting for a bus to Cleveland State. My internship with the Senators’ office was not paid. However, after my internship ended, I received a thank you letter from Ron Grimes who was the legislative director for Senator Glenn during this time period. Accompanying this thank you was a signed recommendation letter from John Glenn to my future, potential employers which was invaluable.
As they say, the rest is history…
I applied for 2 positions and was given 2 job offers. One was with a company in Twinsburg and the other was a company out of Milwaukee called Harley Davidson. I turned down the offer from Harley Davidson as it required 100% travel and took the position in Twinsburg where I worked for 3 years before starting a business with 2 other investors.
2017 marks the 20th Anniversary of my company, Mango Bay Internet. The internship that I had with Senator John Glenn was one of the most memorable and impactful experiences of my life. I was able to work for a true American Hero and recognize that this was truly was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity that would be a catalyst for success. If you have high school and/or college aged children, I strongly suggest having them apply for any internship that may be available to them. John Glenn inspired me to work hard, take risks and soar to new heights. I will be forever grateful to him and may he rest in peace.
Godspeed, John Glenn.