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When the late Arizona Sen. John McCain was in his 60s, a story came out that described a time when he was “physically abused by bad men who held [him] in jail. “It was a reference to five and a half years spent in heavy captivity in Hanoi after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.
In this story, he calls his captors “some very bad names” and uses words that “are not appropriate for polite company,” McCain said in an introduction to his 2005 book. Character is destiny: Inspirational stories that we all need to remember. His mother noticed.
“I’ve never taught you to use that language,” she told him, “and I’m half-witted washing my mouth with soap.”
This tough, principled woman, Roberta McCain, died Monday. She was 108. John McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, announced her death on Twitter.
It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my beautiful mother-in-law, Roberta McCain. I couldn’t ask for a better role model or a better friend. She joins her husband Jack, son John and daughter Sandy.
– Cindy McCain (@cindymccain) October 12, 2020
The cause of her death was not immediately reported.
John McCain grew up in a household immersed in naval traditions. He was the son and grandson of admirals and attended the American Naval Academy.
But his mother, like everyone else, shaped him.
“There’s a kind of steel that goes through the McCain family. And frankly, it’s not limited to men,” said Robert Timberg, author of John McCain: An American Odyssey, told NPR in 2008.
“I think it’s important to look at Senator McCain’s father and grandfather to find out who he is and how he became what he is. But it would be a mistake not to look at our mother.”
Roberta McCain, he said, had “an unsinkable person, that kind of, you know, never say die … don’t give up a person I think Senator McCain has.” And I think he inherited it from her, not necessarily from his father or grandfather. “
In a speech to the Republican National Convention in 2008, John McCain recalled that as a marine father, his father was often at sea and the work of raising him and his two siblings fell to his mother.
“She gave them her love of life, her deep interest in the world, her strength and her faith that we are all destined to use our opportunities to be useful to our country,” McCain said.
“I wouldn’t be here tonight except because of the strength of her character,” he said.
The daughter of an Oklahoma oilman, Roberta McCain, often reunited and relocated the family when her husband received new orders every few years. She loved to travel and stopped at museums and national parks along the way.
When John McCain ran for president on the Republican ticket against Barack Obama in 2008, Roberta McCain was already in the late 1990s – but she would periodically join him in the campaign.
“Do you want me to sit and play bridge every day? Or discuss my last knee change? Or hand out pictures to my grandchildren?” CNN quoted her in an interview with CBS in 2008. “Well, that’s not my lifestyle choice.”
She even appeared in an election ad, saying, “He was the cutest, best kid I’ve ever known. I think he’s going to be a wonderful president. Well, he’s not perfect. Did I say that?”
John McCain died of brain cancer in 2018.
During his 35-year career in Congress and two presidential candidacies, he became one of the most famous politicians of his era. He is remembered for his patriotism, principled independence and respect for friends and opponents throughout the political path.
His mother was no doubt proud of his accomplishments.
But, prone to decency and modesty, and always keeping her children to a higher standard, she thought he spoke in public and appeared on television only a little, Character is destiny.
Asked by a reporter if she was proud that her son had become such a prominent person, she replied: “The names of fools and the faces of fools are often seen in public.”