Roberta McCain, John McCain's Mother, Dies At 108

Published: Monday, October 12, 2020 - 12:38pm
Updated: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 1:27pm
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The mother of U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose feisty personality became her son’s secret weapon during his 2008 presidential campaign, has died. Roberta Wright McCain was 108.

A spokesperson for her daughter-in-law Cindy McCain says Roberta McCain died Monday. A cause of death was not immediately released.

Cindy McCain wrote Monday that “Roberta was the liveliest presence in every room she graced, an irresistible force of nature.”

In a tweet, granddaughter Meghan McCain thanked her “Nana” for teaching her how to live life with “grit, conviction, intensity and love.”

“There will never be another one like you, you will be missed every day. I wish my daughter had gotten to meet you,” said McCain, who gave birth to her first child last month.

A native of Oklahoma, born seven days before Arizona’s statehood in 1912, Roberta McCain never actually lived in the state her son famously represented. She was a longtime resident of Washington, D.C. Her father was a businessman whose varied, colorful enterprises included bootlegging and oil wildcatting. The family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1920s.

She was 20 when she eloped with the man who would become the Arizona Republican senator’s father, marrying into a storied military family.

John McCain Jr. eventually retired with the rank of four-star admiral — the same rank held by his father, John S. “Slew” McCain Sr.

Her son John was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 5-and-a-half years who went on to serve more than three decades representing Arizona in the U.S. House and Senate. 

Roberta McCain traveled the world with her twin sister, who lived to 100. The two famously were denied rental cars because of their age, then decided to buy a BMW to drive around France in their 90s.

She was once asked the secret to living a long life.

INTERVIEWER: How do you do it? How do you stay young, sharp, vibrant?

ROBERTA MCCAIN: I don’t try to stay young. I just happen to be very healthy and I don’t have any aches or pains. If I have like the flu, I only have it for about 12 hours. I just luckily am one of those people that don’t get tired. It’s God-given.

Despite her advanced age, she was seen with her son frequently on the campaign trial when he was the Republican nominee in 2008.

In a C-Span interview during that same year, she recalled the day she heard her son was still alive after his plane was shot down.

“'Oh, Ms. McCain, Mr. McCain, he’s a prisoner of war!' Can you believe that that’s the best news I ever had in my life? You see it depends on where you’re standing how things affect you," McCain said.

She attended her son’s funeral after he died of brain cancer 10 years later.

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan remembered McCain for her vivacity and kindness.

“We were at the Biltmore together the night that Senator McCain basically clinched the nomination and my daughter was there, and she had just, their team, soccer team had just lost the state championship, and Roberta took such good care of her," Keegan said. "I mean, her son is basically winning the nomination for president of the United States and she was very concerned that Annie would have a cup of tea, and that, you know, she would be OK, and we better sit down over here, and you'll get past it. And I've never forgotten it. I kept that silly teacup forever.”

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