Sen. John McCain’s Phoenix memorial draws thousands

Thousands gathered in a Phoenix church Thursday morning for an emotional remembrance and celebration of Senator John McCain’s life.

“My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I loved John McCain,” declared former Vice President Joe Biden, fighting back tears. “John’s story is an American story. It’s not hyperbole. It’s the American story, grounded in respect and decency. Basic fairness. The intolerance [of] the abuse of power.”

Biden, who lost his son to the same cancer that took McCain, promised the McCain family they would soon find a day when the pain is not as deep.

“There are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding, it’s hard to see anything else,” Biden said. “You are going to make it. The image of your dad, your husband, your friend, it crosses your mind and a smile [will] come to your lips before a tear to your eye. That’s when you know. I promise you, this I know … that day will come.”

McCain’s first memorial service took place at North Phoenix Baptist Church, where the family has been part of the congregation for more than 25 years. Cindy McCain, and two of their children, were baptized in the church.

Following the news of McCain’s death, the church released a statement saying in part, “the North Phoenix Baptist Church community [is] mourning the loss of Senator John McCain. Senator McCain was a man of courage and faith and he loved his family.”

And the belief that McCain was a man of courage, faith, and decency was echoed throughout the service.

“He served his country with honor. He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith,” former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods said. “They saw in John McCain a little bit of what they hoped to see in themselves. They saw in John McCain the embodiment of values they hoped to see for their country.”

Woods spent years working with McCain as his chief of staff.

“It was at once a little bit harrowing, a little wild, a little crazy,” Woods recalls. “But a lot of fun and the greatest honor of my life.”

Tommy Espinoza, a McCain friend and former executive director of Chicanos Por La Causa, seconded Woods’ sentiments about McCain’s wild, fun streak with a story from years earlier.

“He said when we get back to Phoenix, we need to get together and have dinner … I said, ‘well congressman, I know a number of congressmen and I know a couple of senators, and they always say that.’ He said, ‘well no, when you get back you give me a date and I’ll be there,’” Tommy remembered. “I get a call from his office, they say he’s running late… it’s his birthday, he wants to spend some time with his family,’ … I say ‘you know, if he wants to cancel, I understand. Please.’ They say, ‘no, he made it very clear to us that he’s going to your house tonight’… That’s Senator John McCain, [he] keeps his word.”

McCain did not just form bonds with politicians though, he became friends with anyone who shared his values. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. was among the people to pay tribute to the late senator.

“He celebrated differences, he embraced humanity, [a] champion of what is true and just. He saw people for who they were,” Fitzgerald said. “Yes, ours was an unlikely friendship but it’s one I will always cherish.”

In addition to those who spoke, there were 24 sitting U.S. Senators, four former senators, Arizona leaders, and thousands of Arizona citizens in attendance.

After the memorial, McCain was transported by motorcade to Goldwater Air National Guard Base at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport International Airport where he departed Arizona for the final time and flown to Joint Base Andrews military facility southeast of Washington, D.C.

“Now John is going to take his rightful place in a long line of extraordinary leaders in this nation’s history, who in their time and in their way, stood for freedom and stood for liberty and have made the American story the most improbable and most hopeful and most enduring story on earth,” Biden extolled. “[He] hoped he played a small part in that story. John, you did much more than that, my friend. To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again.”

Emily Richardson

Graham Bosch


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