Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - Page 7 News List

John McCain’s mother inspired his maverick side

AP, WASHINGTON

Roberta McCain, mother of US Senator John McCain, stands on stage during a rally in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 16, 2008.

Photo: AP

US Senator John McCain’s rebellious streak did not come out of nowhere. His mother, Roberta, had a habit of speeding behind the wheel and racking up tickets.

When told during a trip to Europe that she was too old to rent a car, she went out and bought a Peugeot. Her son once answered the telephone to hear his mother say that she was on a cross-country driving trip — by herself, in her 90s.

Now 106, the wife of a US Navy admiral and mother of a navy captain, lived a life full of travel and adventure, punctuated by her sass and determination.

She once said thather son liked to hold her up as an example of “what he hopes his lifespan will be.”

However, in the end, she is mourning him instead of the other way around.

Although slowed by a stroke, she is expected to attend the memorial and burial services in Washington and Annapolis, Maryland, later this week for the middle son she called “Johnny”: the Vietnam prisoner of war, congressman, senator and two-time presidential candidate who died of brain cancer on Saturday at age 81.

The senator said in one of his books that “my mother was raised to be a strong, determined woman who thoroughly enjoyed life, and always tried to make the most of her opportunities. She was encouraged to accept, graciously and with good humor, the responsibilities and sacrifices her choices have required of her. I am grateful to her for the strengths she taught me by example.”

McCain’s father, too, had a penchant for living large, with the senator recalling that a predilection for “quick tempers, adventurous spirits and love for the country’s uniform” was encoded in his family DNA.

A native of Muskogee, Oklahoma, Roberta Wright was nearly 21 and a college student in southern California when she eloped to Tijuana, Mexico, in January 1933 with a young sailor named John S. McCain Jr.

He would go on to become a navy admiral, like the father he shared a name with, and the couple would have three children — Jean, John and Joseph — within a decade.

With her husband away on navy business most of the time, Roberta McCain raised the kids. She did not complain and loved navy life. The family lived in Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone — where the senator was born in 1936 — Connecticut, Virginia and many points in between.

“To me, the navy epitomizes everything that’s good in America,” she told C-SPAN in 2008, during the presidential contest that John McCain lost to Barack Obama.

John McCain followed his father and grandfather’s footsteps into the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he is to be laid to rest on Sunday.

He became a fighter pilot and joined the US war effort in Vietnam. He was on his 23rd bombing run over North Vietnam when he was shot out of the sky and taken prisoner in October 1967.

His parents were in London getting ready to attend a dinner at the Iranian embassy when a special telephone that Roberta McCain said she never touched rang while her husband was in the shower.

She answered and listened as a friend told her that two planes had been shot down and none of the pilots had ejected. She told her husband when he came out of the shower and they kept to their plans.

“We went and decided we were not going to say one word at this dinner,” she said in the 2008 interview.

She said that later learning that her son was alive and had become a prisoner of war was “the best news I ever had in my life.”

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