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Brown Honors John Glenn

Location: Columbus, OH

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's remarks as prepared for delivery at John Glenn's Celebration of Life follow below.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery: John Glenn's Celebration of Life

Mershon Auditorium, The Ohio State University

December 17, 2016

By any measure -- accomplishment, service, courage -- John Glenn was a great man. But when I think of John Glenn, I think of a good man.

My first taste of John Glenn, the good man, was on March 4, 1968, at the Madison Theater in Mansfield, Ohio. More than fifty teenage boys had gathered for our Eagle Scout Dinner. Colonel Glenn was the speaker.

John Glenn, national hero, met each of us. John Glenn, perhaps the most famous man of his generation, took a picture with us -- one at a time. He always took time for you, no matter your station in life. And that lesson has stuck with me.

Almost 39 years later, former Senator John Glenn walked me down the center aisle of the United States Senate to be sworn in. And of course -- like the Eagle Scouts of four decades earlier -- all the new senators wanted to meet their American hero. He was kind to them too.

I had the honor to see John Glenn up close -- at work and at play; with family and with strangers.

Every presidential year, Ohio's most prominent Democrat would board a bus with our presidential or vice-presidential nominee to campaign around Ohio. I watched the retired Senator -- a mentor to so many of us -- reconnect with Senator Kerry in 2004 and Senator Biden in 2008. And I saw him, for the first time, meet the young Senator from Illinois, and the immediate connection that the American icon and the future President made.

I saw him, a decade after his retirement, get off the bus, jump over a ditch, and shake the outstretched hand of an appreciative farmer.

John was there, in non-presidential years, for Ohio Democrats too. Bus travel is rarely glamourous. But with presidential candidates, it's at least modern and comfortable.

In 2006 we boarded a, shall we say, older, less opulent Winnebago with the Ohio Democratic ticket to campaign through small-town and rural Ohio. As we traveled up and down the hills of John's beloved southeast Ohio, the rest of us began to get car sick . . . but of course not the 85-year-old astronaut, who simply smiled.

And I saw the elder statesman as he spoke to an adoring crowd, transferring some of his magic to the rest of us.

John was an FDR Democrat, Roosevelt saved America, after all, John said -- an FDR Democrat who cared about justice and opportunity for people with less privilege than most of us in this room have.

He never forgot the, "terror that struck his 10 or 11 year old heart" when he overheard his parents saying that their mortgage was about to be foreclosed.

It was a New Deal, government-backed FHA loan that allowed John's father to renegotiate with the bank and keep his family in their home. Some years later, it was the federal government that paid for John's first flying lessons.

John knew, as he later wrote in his memoir that, "that government can change people's lives for the better."

Too many remembrances have written of John's brand of patriotic optimism as a throwback to a bygone era. But it's needed today more than ever.

John believed in an activist government and an active citizenship. And he warned that cynicism and apathy were a threat to democracy itself.

John's friend Robert Kennedy, who helped to convince him to run for the Senate, called politics a calling, almost like the ministry.

Presbyterian John liked those words. John said, "The happiest and most fulfilled people I've known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest."

That drove John's activism and his public service. And it drove him to create the Glenn School to inspire the next generation of active, engaged citizens.

John Glenn was the only Ohioan ever to be elected four times to the United States Senate. He was a work horse, never a show horse. He labored over the details of non-proliferation and environmental cleanup of nuclear disposal sites -- grunt work to some. But John was content to spend his time, not on collecting instant headlines, but achieving lasting results that would leave the world in better shape than he found it.

He helped create the independent watchdogs we know as inspectors general - to keep the government he believed in honest and accountable to the people it serves. And he had the foresight to found the Great Lakes Task Force, which continues to play an important role in our work to protect the health of our lakes and the local jobs that depend on them.

The night before the 50th anniversary of Colonel Glenn's space launch, Connie and I had dinner in German Village with Annie and John and Lyn and David and Karen. As the evening wound down, we headed to the door together; the valet pulled up to the front of the restaurant with John's Cadillac. The 91-year-old astronaut hopped in the driver's seat, Annie in front passenger seat, and the kids -- now all on the other side of 60 -- piled in the back. Some things never change.

And oh, how they were in love -- Annie and John. I spoke with Annie last April, on their 73rd wedding anniversary. She told me that they waited to get married until after John finished his flight training in 1943. We wanted to get married in high school, Annie said, "but our parents wouldn't let us because they said it would never last."

Their love was infectious - the stuff of fairy tales - and they shared it with everyone around them.

A former Glenn staffer told me that, "John Glenn took joy in helping others and was so proud of his staff. Even when you left, you were still family."

John had a way of making everyone around him feel important -- from the teenage Eagle Scouts to the farmer in the field. He lived his life by Matthew 25: Jesus admonished his followers, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me."

That was John Glenn. The great American hero, was a good man.

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