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Glenn, Collins and the brilliant Blue horizon

The late John Glenn Jr. (Photo: Supplied)
The late John Glenn Jr. (Photo: Supplied)

As an aviator, engineer, astronaut and senator, John Glenn Jr., who died in Columbus Ohio last Thursday at the age of 95, is remembered as a truly great American . . . and, closer to home, as a genuinely ardent Carlton supporter.

Long-serving club members (like Len Halprin who this week contacted Carlton) know this, as they remember a framed letter penned by NASA’s first man to orbit the earth, which for years hanged from a wall in the foyer of the old Carlton Social Club in the since-demolished Robert Heatley Stand. 

The hand-signed thankyou note, dated August 13, 1996 and carrying a Washington D.C. letterhead, was forwarded to the then Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gough by Glenn, the then Ohio Senator to whom Gough had posted a Carlton ’96 season’s ticket earlier that year. 

Not surprisingly, Glenn’s love for Carlton appears to have stemmed from a hatred for Essendon – and his association with the club’s former number one ticket holder Andrew Peacock – to whom Glenn incorrectly referred as “your former Prime Minister” in his correspondence. 

The thankyou letter from Glenn. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Gough remembered corresponding with Glenn, but acknowledged his predecessor Ian Collins for making the initial contact – and Carlton’s 1968 premiership player revealed as much when contacted this week.

“John Glenn became a great Carlton man and the club cultivated it. I used to write to him once a year and send him a Membership ticket,” Collins said.

Collins confirmed the connection with Glenn through Peacock, who for four years from 1996 fulfilled diplomatic duties for the Australian Government in Washington. 

“It happened through Andrew Peacock, who served as Australian Ambassador in Washington. Now Andrew was an Essendon supporter and great mates with John Glenn, and as John Glenn was interested in football he and Peacock used to have a bet whenever Carlton and Essendon played.” 

But why did Glenn support the old dark Navy Blues in the first place? Put that down to Collins’s ingenuity.

“At one stage I had a file of Honorary Members comprising sports people, people like John Glenn who held positions of authority in government, and entertainers like Olivia Newton-John. Sue (Ohlson, Collins’ former secretary) used to keep that file at hand.” 

John Glenn, it seems, never made it to a Carlton game, nor visited Australia. The closest he got was on February 20, 1962, when he saw Perth from the window of the orbiting Friendship 7 rocket, and proclaimed the Western Australian capital the “city of lights”. 

Glenn as an astronaut. (Photo: Supplied)

The story goes that clouds obscured Glenn’s view of parts of Australia at night, but sunrise was on the way and with it a glimpse of the colour that’s made Carlton famous. As he declared at the time to Mission Control: “In the periscope, I can see the brilliant blue horizon coming up behind me; approaching sunrise. Over”.

Mission Control replied, “You are very lucky,” to which Glenn said, “You’re right. Man, this is beautiful”.