While John McCain’s military and political legacy are being lauded this week, one could overlook the impression his mother, 106-year-old Roberta McCain, had on the boy she called “Johnny.” Mrs. McCain has been by her son’s side for most of his nearly 82 years, and she will be there when he is laid to rest at the Naval Academy this week in Annapolis, Maryland.
Roberta McCain was born in 1912 along with her twin sister Rowena (Rowena died in 2011), and spent her formative years traveling the world with her father, a wealthy oil wildcatter, says the Washington Post. But in her later years, she was happy to settle down in Washington, D.C., to be near her son, Senator John McCain and his family, even joining him on tour in his bid for the presidency.
Senator McCain’s parents met when Roberta was a 19-year-old student at the University of Southern California and his father, John S. McCain Jr., was a U.S. Navy ensign stationed on a battleship near Long Beach, California. The two fell in love and ran off to Tijuana, Mexico, and eloped in 1933 when she was 20. She still made it back to USC in time for exams.
As we offer heartfelt prayers and condolences for John McCain’s family, do recall that his mother, Roberta McCain, is still alive — at age 106. pic.twitter.com/rx2tdHPn3u— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) August 26, 2018
That story and more say a lot about Mrs. Roberta McCain, according to her son John.
“My mother grew to be an extroverted and irrepressible woman.”
John McCain said that it was his mother who helped maintain some normalcy with all of the moving around he did as a child for his father’s Navy career. It was Roberta McCain who imbued her children’s childhood with educational experiences to try to make up for the gaps caused by irregular schooling. John McCain says his mother took him to art galleries, museums, the Grand Canyon, and Carlsbad Caverns to name just a few.
Senator McCain said in his memoir that he became “rowdy” in a way to mimic her exuberance because he saw how people warmed up to her and her excitement for life. Particularly after his time in Hanoi, he was determined to live his life to the fullest.
“She taught me to find so much pleasure in life that misfortune could not rob me of the joy of living.”
Roberta McCain often joked that son John would point to her to demonstrate the family longevity and why people shouldn’t be concerned to reelect him.
“Well, of course,” Roberta said with a shrug and smile. “He’s glad to put me up as what he hopes his lifespan will be.”
But it was not to be, and this weekend, Mrs. McCain will attend her son’s memorial service and burial, listening to what he meant to his friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers.