- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — She will tell you that she doesn’t understand all this attention. Her son is the famous one. But Roberta McCain has been generating headlines since she was 19, and that was a very long time ago.

Seventy-three years, to be exact.

She arrived in the nation’s biggest city earlier this week, accompanied by her 92-year-old twin sister, Rowena Wright. And her middle child, of course, that Republican senator from Arizona, the former candidate for U.S. president, John Sidney McCain III. Or “Johnny,” as she calls him.

And since she got here, she’s been one hot mama. Reporters are calling. People stop her on the street. Her son takes her to parties. Yesterday, she was stopping at Elaine’s, the upper East Side restaurant where celebrities are welcome and other people are tolerated.

This does not go to her silver head. On Wednesday, she was riding a city bus down Fifth Avenue, gawking at the architecture.

“I love looking at all the buildings. I feel like a … oh, what’s the word? A hayseed or a redneck,” she said.

She is neither. She was a debutante when she traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, and eloped with a young sailor.

“Society Co-Ed Elopes With Navy Officer: Roberta Wright Defies Family,” read the San Francisco Examiner headline. The year was 1912. She brought her college books on her honeymoon.

Jack McCain wasn’t home a lot, but Roberta didn’t complain. They lived in Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, Connecticut, Virginia and places between. The admiral’s wife was a looker, and when the McCains were stationed at Norfolk, sailors hoped for a look at Roberta on the tennis courts. She was in her 50s then.

Roberta and Rowena were identically beautiful. When Jack McCain was asked how he told his wife and her sister apart, he wisecracked: “That’s their problem.”

The sisters often travel the world together. After the Republican National Convention, they are headed to Greece. Two years ago, John McCain answered the phone and was informed by his mother that she was driving across the country. By herself.

She was getting dressed for an embassy party when she and Jack McCain learned that their son had been shot down in Vietnam. Later, John McCain wrote a memoir about his nearly six years as a prisoner of war. He described times when he yelled curse words, in English, at his Vietnamese guards, who didn’t understand.

His mother got on the phone. “Johnny, I’m going to come over there and wash your mouth out with soap,” she told him.

“But Ma, these were bad people,” he said.

“I don’t care,” she said.

In New York, people have stopped her on the street to ask “Are you John McCain’s mother?” To which she replies, “Yes, I am.”

This makes her laugh. “Everyone is so nice here now,” she said. “And aren’t the police sweet?”

The McCains lived in New York City in the 1970s, one of the city’s most decrepit decades. “It was horrible. The town was filthy, crime was terrible and the people were rude,” she said. “But now, this is wonderful.”


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