Not all icons make national stage

Published 11:48 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Two iconic people died last week. One played his role on a worldwide stage, the other, a woman, in a smaller venue. Both inspired several generations to learn, to experience life and to dream big.

The same year I turned 10, John Glenn made three obits around the earth. That space flight cemented his place in history and in the imaginations of kids who watched in amazement as that rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

In school, we cut out newspaper stories and magazine pictures relating to the flight of Friendship 7, pasting them on pieces of construction paper to create a booklet. I’m sure I still have that booklet somewhere.

I remember looking up at the night sky, at all those blazing stars, and wondering what John Glenn saw when he looked down on the earth from so high above it. It was the stuff of dreams. Even though Sen. Glenn later voted to exclude women from the astronaut program, during that flight the little girl me dared to imagine that someone like me might one day see the night sky from above our world.

While astronaut Glenn was awing the world by touching the heavens, another iconic figure in my life was raising a house full of boys. Wilda Lee Page lived two doors down from us, one of the neighborhood mothers of my childhood.

Many an afternoon, we heard the sound of her ringing the bell that called her sons home from playing. We, and they, knew if they did not respond she would come marching up the street to get them, and that would not be a good thing. I smile when I remember those days.

While I appreciate that she was a great mother, she was one of Opp’s icons because of her day job as a teacher at Opp High School. For many years, she taught subjects like bookkeeping and journalism (the one having an impact on my life.)

And, like Glenn, who opened the door to out-of-this-world adventures, Mrs. Page gave me a taste of the power and possibility of journalism. In that class, I felt excitement about writing for the first time.

When she took us on a field trip to The Opp News, it was like I stepped into a wonderland. The smell of the ink and the sound of the presses sent my senses reeling and I loved everything about the atmosphere of that newspaper office.

Mrs. Page always encouraged my efforts, always praised me when I did good and offered constructive criticism when she saw ways I could do better. She made me feel like she saw “me” and appreciated my talents. And, reading posts on Facebook after she died last week, I know she inspired so many others.

Hearing about the deaths of John Glenn at 95 and Mrs. Page at age 101, made me consider how we define who is an icon. The dictionary says an icon is, “A person or thing that is the best example of a certain profession or some doing.” That certainly fits both of these people.

While one achieved worldwide fame and touched thousands of lives, the other, though not as widely known, also left a mark on so many people.

John Glenn said, “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that 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.”

John Glenn did that and so did a short-in-stature woman who stood tall in the eyes of those of us blessed to have her be a part of our lives. Their passing leaves us both sad, and thankful that they lived.

Moreover, for me, it shows no matter what you do, orbit the earth or encourage students; every person can be an iconic figure. It’s not about fame. It’s about devoting your life to something greater than yourself.

Godspeed John Glenn and Wilda Lee Page.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.