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Roberta McCain, mother of the late Sen. John McCain, dies at age 108

Roberta McCain, mother of the late US Senator John McCain, waits for the arrival of her son's casket during a ceremony inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, August 31, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)
October 13, 2020

Roberta McCain, mother of the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has died at the age of 108, according to her daughter-in-law, Cindy McCain.

She was a fixture on Capitol Hill and a large presence on the trail during her son’s 2008 bid for president. During that campaign, the senator faced questions about his age and fitness for office, since he would have been the oldest person sworn in as a first-term U.S. president. Whenever pressed on the matter, he would point to his energetic mother, then 96 years old, as an example of genetic longevity.

“From both my parents, I learned to persevere,” John McCain wrote in “Faith of My Fathers,” his 1999 memoir. “But my mother’s extraordinary resilience made her the stronger of the two.”

In the acknowledgements, he called her a “natural storyteller” and thanked her for helping him dredge up memories for the book “despite her initial suspicion that I was ‘just trying to show off.’”

She was “extroverted and irrepressible,” he wrote.

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At 108, Roberta McCain saw more than her share of American history. She was born in 1912, during the Taft administration, and lived through World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, the felling of the Berlin Wall, 9/11 and the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better role model or a better friend,” Cindy McCain tweeted Monday.

Roberta McCain outlived son John, who died in 2018 at age 81 after battling brain cancer. She was also preceded in death by her husband, Admiral John S. McCain Jr.; her twin sister, Rowena Willis; and daughter Sandy McCain.

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