Roberta McCain, whose son, Senator John McCain from Arizona, said she instigated his will to survive as a prisoner of war in Vietnam – and who at the age of 96 bravely fought for his lost bid for the presidency against Barack Obama in 2008 – died Monday at her home in Washington. She was 108 years old.
Her death was announced on Twitter by her daughter-in-law, Cindy McCain.
Mrs. McCain was an adventurous world traveler who, with outward calm, brought about frequent upheavals in great strides and during wartime. She was Navy through and through ̵
For Mrs. McCain and her husband, Adm. John S. McCain Jr., the commander of all United States Armed Forces in the Pacific and Vietnam War Theater, was painfully prayerfully and almost silent in public about her son’s captivity in North Vietnam. They knew that Hanoi tortured prisoners and that Lt. Cmdr. McCain as a propaganda prize could hardly be exempted. He was not.
He came home a war hero and, with his mother’s encouragement, began a political career as a Republican. He won two terms in the House of Representatives and six terms in the Senate, and ran twice for the White House. In 2000 he lost the nomination to Mr. Bush, who later won the presidency. Eight years later, he won the nomination but lost the election to Mr. Obama. He passed away in 2018.
“I learned how to persevere from both of my parents,” wrote Senator McCain in a memoir “Faith of My Fathers” (1999, with Mark Salter). “But my mother’s extraordinary resilience made her the stronger of the two. I have acquired some of their resilience and bliss, and that legacy has made a tremendous difference in my life.
“Our family,” he continued, “lived on the move, rooted not in the position but in the culture of the Navy. I learned from my mother not only to accept constant disturbances, but also to accept them as elements of an interesting one To welcome life. “
Mrs. McCain, the rebellious daughter of a wealthy Oklahoma oil wildcatter who settled his family in Los Angeles, escaped and became the Navy wife in 1933. As her husband rose to global military importance, she lived in capital cities and naval bases in Europe, Asia, and Asia America for nearly four decades. Their children were born in Honolulu, the Panama Canal Zone, and the Groton, Conn, submarine base.
Her youngest son, Joe, had attended 17 schools by the end of ninth grade. During World War II, Ms. McCain, who lived in Hawaii, rarely saw her husband, a submarine commander, whose dangers as he patrolled the Pacific for months were marked by war legends and family nightmares.
After the husbands left, the wives took over all duties, Senator McCain wrote:
“Our mothers run our households, pay the bills, and manage most of our upbringing. For long journeys, they have to be both mother and father. They move us from base to base. They take care of our religious, educational and emotional needs. They mediate our disputes, discipline us, and protect us. “
After World War II, when her husband became Navy Information Officer and Liaison Officer, the McCains kept a home on Capitol Hill. Senators, Representatives, and Pentagon brass players were frequent visitors to their home, which later became the Capitol Hill Club.
“My mother’s charm was as effective with politicians as it was with naval officers,” Senator McCain recalled in his memoir.
Her husband was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1958. Her father-in-law, John S. McCain Sr., was also an admiral who commanded the air and carrier forces of the Western Pacific Naval during World War II.
In the early 1960s the family lived in New York when Admiral McCain was affiliated with the United Nations and in London when he commanded American naval forces in Europe. During the admiral’s theater missions in the Pacific and Vietnam from 1968 to 1972, Ms. McCain often accompanied him to Saigon, where he spoke to General Creighton Abrams, the Vietnamese military commander. She also accompanied him on missions to Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.
“My mother always traveled with my father,” wrote Senator McCain. “Had the Navy allowed it, they would have safely accompanied him on sea service and found a useful and interesting way to spend their time in the alternately exciting and boring world of men at sea.”
After her husband’s death in 1981, Ms. McCain and her identical twin sister Rowena took long car trips across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. When she was refused a rental car in Paris because of her age, she once went out and bought a car. She collected numerous parking tickets on road trips in the United States and was once clocked at over 100 mph, her son said.
In her later years she promoted her son’s political career. Retired from the Navy in 1981, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, where he served four years, and to the Senate in 1986, where he was re-elected five times, most recently in 2016. She had no role in his running for President in 2000.
But she did participate in Senator McCain’s 2008 Straight Talk Express campaign. She stole the show on occasion with bitter comments on her son’s political enemies and once falsely accused a rival, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, of being involved in a scandal that rocked the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. She and her son both apologized.
Roberta Wright was born on February 7, 1912 in Muskogee, Okla., As one of five children of Archibald and Myrtle (Fletcher) Wright. She was a freshman at the University of Southern California in 1931 when she met Ensign McCain, a graduate of the Naval Academy.
Her parents disapproved of her advertising, but the couple escaped and married in Tijuana, Mexico in 1933. They had three children, Jean Alexandra, John Sidney III, and Joseph Pinckney II.
Meghan Latcovich, Cindy McCain’s chief of staff, said Ms. McCain was survived by her son Joseph; 10 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and seven great-great-grandchildren. Their daughter Jean Alexandra McCain Morgan died last year.
On Ms. McCain’s 100th birthday in 2012, a crowd of relatives and friends gathered at the Capitol Hill Club, her former residence, to see cake and a slide show of her panoramic past. She was pictured with Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. John Paul Getty, the industrialist and collector; Bob Hope; Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce; Madame and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek; and other.
After Senator McCain’s death in August 2018, Ms. McCain was unable to attend her son’s memorial service in Phoenix. But she led her family to a memorial in Washington where the senator lay in the Capitol rotunda. She also attended his funeral at Washington National Cathedral, where Mr. Obama and former President George W. Bush gave eulogies, and attended a private service and funeral ceremony at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
“We have had lively political and political debates to this day,” Senator McCain said in his memoir of his mother.
Alex Traub contributed to the coverage.