“The Right Stuff”: John Glenn Passes Away at Age 95
American hero, statesman, veteran, and fellow pilot passed away in Columbus, Ohio this past Thursday following a brief hospital stay. All of the news feeds offer highlights of Senator Glenn’s life and illustrious career.
I had met the senator and spoke with him at a pilot seminar at the Columbus Airport. We were in a class together conducted by BPPP (Bonanza Pilot Proficiency Program), a continuing education program for pilots flying Beechcraft airplanes.
Everyone arrived on a Thursday evening and attended classes/seminars Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Flight training and tests are part of the schedule, as is Friday evening dinner. John Glenn was the keynote speaker. He talked about those early days with deep conviction along with a little levity. His only political message was to “Exercise your right and get out there and vote”.
After his presentation, the flight instructors were introduced and paired with the students they would be flying with. Of course, when the instructor who was assigned to Senator Glenn stood up, he teased the astronaut, asking, “Who will be training whom”, and playfully goaded that he’ll have Senator Glenn fly the approach inverted, upside down! The room, of course, erupted into laughter.
First timers, like me, were scheduled to fly on Sunday. While the others flew on Saturday, us newbies attended classes and seminars. On a mid-morning break I ventured outside for some fresh air, as it was early May in Ohio and a particularly nice day. Outside the front door and under the awning was Senator Glenn himself, relaxing, legs crossed, one arm on the backrest.
“Good morning Senator, how was your flight?” I asked as I approached him.
“Outstanding,” Senator Glenn responded.
I just had to ask, “Did he make you fly your practice approach inverted?”
Senator Glenn confidently met me square in my eyes and calmly replied, “No, but I could have.”
Not wanting to consume all of his time I tried to leave him in his solitude, but he stopped me before I could turn to go. “Young man, sit with me and tell me what you fly,” he said, warmly. I’ll never forget it.
We talked for the better part of 20 minutes, while he was waiting for his wife, Annie to pick him up. I know that I asked him questions that he’d been asked countless times before, yet he answered as if it was the first time. There we were, just talking.
It crossed my mind to ask for a picture, as he had done with anyone there who asked. I did not want to ruin my moment with him. Although I have the picture in my mind and will have for years to come, a part of me regrets not getting that picture. Whenever I tell this story to someone and my wife is present, she lets me have it for NOT getting a picture. She may be right. I’ll always remember my time with our American Hero, Senator, and Astronaut John Glenn, the last of the original Mercury 7 and a man I think of as having “the right stuff”.