Roberta McCain, Sen. John McCain’s 106-year-old mother, had dealt with the prospect of her son’s passing once before, in 1967 when he was shot down on a bombing run over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
The word that he had survived that incident and that he was being held captive eventually reached her and the rest of the McCain family — all of whom spent nearly six years afterward hoping and waiting for his release and that of his comrades in the “Hanoi Hilton.”
This time, though, there was no doubt that “Johnny,” as his mother called him, was not coming home. (He’s shown above as a young Navy man; he’s shown with his mother, above right, in recent years.)
He succumbed last Saturday only hours after foregoing further treatment for the virulent form of brain cancer that finally ended his extraordinarily eventful life after nearly 82 years.
“She is all there, mentally, and is still going strong at 106,” a family friend told People magazine. “She outlived her 81-year-old son. That tells you a lot. But it’s a tough blow to bury your child.”
Roberta McCain lives in Washington, D.C., and will be seen by the nation at the Saturday national memorial service for her son at the National Cathedral. He is lying in state Friday in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the 34th American to be so honored.
Roberta McCain was there as well.
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Vice President Mike Pence spoke movingly Friday at a rotunda service of McCain’s devotion to the military and to the Constitution of the United States. On Thursday, Joe Biden, Pence’s predecessor as the first-in-line of succession in the event of a president’s passing, delivered an emotional address as well, speaking at length of his love and admiration for the departed Arizona Republican.
Roberta McCain is, like her late son, a strong-willed maverick. She celebrated her most recent birthday just six months prior, surrounded by friends and family. And losing her son has taken a profound emotional toll on her, according to reports, and evident by her not making any public statements.
John McCain's mother once said her son liked to hold her up as an example of "what he hopes his lifespan will be." But in the end, 106-year-old Roberta McCain is mourning him instead of the other way around. https://t.co/Af7tm1zSC4
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) August 30, 2018
Roberta McCain made the sign of the cross on her chest and took a moment beside her son's casket as he lain in state. https://t.co/2f45Tfe9q1
— WUSA9 (@wusa9) August 31, 2018
Roberta McCain, John McCain's 106-year-old mother, is expected to attend the services for her son at the Capitol, the National Cathedral and the Naval Academy, according to McCain aides https://t.co/V5CW0dA3T9 pic.twitter.com/6X4IbkhX7I
— CNN (@CNN) August 30, 2018
I love this advice John McCain's mother gave to him: “to find so much pleasure in life that misfortune could not rob me of the joy of living” https://t.co/KD6XRlxqwS
— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) August 31, 2018
“Roberta was his biggest supporter and the leader of his fan club. She was incredibly proud of him,” the family friend told People. “His mommy loved him. He knew that.”
Roberta wasn’t just proud of her son but was an active supporter of him throughout his eventful career. CSPAN captured a passionate speech she gave to campaign workers during his presidential run in 2008.
McCain won the Republican primary but lost to then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama. He showed his commitment to civility and bipartisanship even in that contentious election when he defended Obama during a rally.
“No, ma’am,” McCain said when a woman in the crowd said he couldn’t trump Obama because he was Arab. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
McCain lay in state for the first of his services on Wednesday at the Arizona State Capitol. He was then taken to his second service at North Phoenix Baptist Church after a public procession.
He will be laid to rest Sunday in a private service at the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he graduated “fifth from the bottom,” as he so often laughingly said when discussing his years in Annapolis, Maryland.