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John McCain remembered in Boston area as ‘true profile in courage’

Senator John McCain dies at 81
Senator John McCain dies at 81 (Mark Gartsbeyn)

Senator John McCain’s conservative politics mostly didn’t conform to the largely progressive bent of Massachusetts voters.

But the longtime Republican “maverick” of the US Senate was lauded over the weekend in the Boston area for his willingness to compromise and work for the greater good of the country.

“We must prove again, as those who came before us proved, that a people free to act in their own interests will perceive their interests in an enlightened way, will live as one nation, in a kinship of ideals. . . a civilization in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom,” the Arizona senator told Boston College students in 2006.


In the hours after his death at age 81 Saturday night, McCain — who survived as a prisoner of war for more than five years during the Vietnam War and ran twice for president — was remembered as a lawmaker willing to buck political pressure to work on bipartisan efforts like campaign finance reform and combating global warming, plus build relationships with Democrats and independents.

At the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United State Senate in Dorchester on Sunday, McCain’s image was periodically projected on screens as part of a Senate exhibit.

“It’s sad, actually, because he’s a reminder of the days of being able to find common ground and not just talking past each other,” said Bill Brenner, 48, of Haverhill, during a visit to the institute Sunday afternoon.“He showed that you can dispute with a sense of duty, respect to other viewpoints, and overall humanity.”

Every member of Massachusetts’ all-Democrat congressional delegation offered tributes to McCain, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said she was “blessed” to have served with McCain on the Armed Services Committee.

“If there ever was a true American patriot, John was that patriot. I’ll miss his strength and his maverick spirit, but most of all I’ll miss his kindness,” Warren said.


Senator Edward Markey hailed McCain in his own Twitter post: “Courage flowed through John McCain’s veins.

“It was his lifeblood and our nation was the beneficiary of his strength. A soldier’s courage during war, a legislator’s courage to cross the aisle, a husband and father’s courage to the last,” Markey said.

In an era of increasing partisanship, he stood out in his willingness to break ranks with his party, including in his publicly antagonistic relationship with President Trump and McCain’s famous “thumbs-down” vote that helped preserve the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

And McCain’s bipartisan spirit will extend to his funeral, where former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are expected to speak during the service.

When McCain spoke at Boston College’s convocation for the incoming freshman class, he told students that “all lives are a struggle against selfishness,” but there is “no honor or happiness in just being strong enough to be left alone,” according to a copy of his remarks.

“I discovered that nothing is more liberating in life than to fight for a cause that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone,” McCain said. “And that has made all the difference, my friends, all the difference in the world.”

The following year, McCain joined then-independent Senator Joseph Lieberman to urge lawmakers to move ahead on bipartisan efforts to combat global warming in an op-ed to the Globe.


In a tragic coincidence, McCain died exactly nine years after Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, and from the same type of cancer. The two men had sometimes sparred before they became good friends. Kennedy died on Aug. 25, 2009.

When McCain learned of his cancer diagnosis, he focused on his concern for his family and a “renewed drive” to complete his work, said Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, in a tribute published by the Globe.

Their cooperation could be seen during an Armed Services Committee hearing on torture, when Senator Kennedy ran out of his allotted time as he questioned a witness, she wrote.

“John was up next and, seamlessly, it seemed, took Ted’s notes and completed the questioning. At that moment, the nation saw how much more was possible when senators worked together, keeping the nation’s interests in mind without worrying about who got the credit,” she wrote.

On Sunday, flags at the John F. Fitzgerald Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester flew at half-staff in McCain’s honor.

At the JFK library in 1999, McCain was honored for his work with former senator Russell Feingold in pushing campaign finance reform; each received that year’s Profile in Courage award at a ceremony attended by Kennedy.

McCain spoke at the Kennedy Institute’s opening in 2015, and remembered his colleague as a “problem solver.”

“I’m less patient than Ted was, but I know his approach was best suited to the institution. It was the statesman in him — tactical, farsighted, and inventive — that made the passionate, outspoken advocate so damn effective. That’s a good lesson for all of us,” McCain said, according to a copy of his remarks.


Joe Cloonan, 65, of Reading, who was visiting the institute with his daughter, praised McCain for his military service and congressional career. He respected McCain, even if he disagreed with the senator’s politics, he said.

“He is still a hero to me,” Cloonan said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.