John Glenn, the Would-be Vice President

Governor Jimmy Carter and the American hero – John Glenn – walk as they talk about the vice presidency in 1976. From Jimmy Carter – Photographs 1970-2010 available at, The Carter Presidential Library and select bookstores. $21.95  ©Ken Hawkins/

John Glenn.

All Americans know the name.

Marine, combat and test pilot, astronaut, first American to orbit the earth, politician and statesman, United States Senator from his home state of Ohio.

But what most Americans don’t know…or don’t remember, is that John Glenn was came close to being our Vice President.

In the summer of 1976, Democratic party presidential candidate Jimmy Carter summoned a select handful of men to his home in Plains, Georgia. Among the names were Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie and yes, John Glenn. They were being interviewed for the second highest position in the United States government.

The Ohio senator and his wife, Annie arrived in the southern farming community midday and after sitting down for lunch with the Georgia governor and Rosalynn, began a tour of the Carter farmlands. After an obligatory look at peanut fields, the Glenns visited the Carter family cemetery and then walked up a dirt driveway to a weathered, rough-sided house that was sorely in need of paint.

They were at the home of Carter’s tenant farmer.

He was Leonard Wright – an African American man of the deep south…a dirt farmer having just come in from the field. How would the potential Vice President react? How would he relate?

Leonard Wright, Jimmy Carter and their daughters with Senator John Glenn.             ©Ken Hawkins/

Carter, Glenn and Wright met, walked away and disappeared on the land behind the house.

While I’ll never know for sure, I think that the meeting was set for Carter to take the measure of Mr. Glenn.

Mr. Wright was not only Governor Carter’s tenant farmer… but he was his dear and trusted friend.

Later, when Carter, Wright and Glenn came back into view, there were smiles all around. Wright and Carter pulled their young daughters up into their arms and Glenn beamed.

Ultimately, Walter Mondale became Carter’s vice president and I’ve always wondered who said no to who.

I think that John Glenn – had passed Carter’s first test…and if it wouldn’t elicit a groan, I’d say that America’s hero had “the Wright Stuff”.

Thanks being one of the greats of my generation, Senator. Rest in peace.




Tags: , , , , ,