Americans think of two things when they think of Arizona: U.S. Sen. John McCain and the Grand Canyon, said Gov. Doug Ducey at a memorial service for the late senator Wednesday.
“Imagining Arizona without John McCain is like picturing Arizona without the Grand Canyon. It’s just not natural,” Ducey said.
McCain’s close friends, family and colleagues reminisced about Arizona’s senior senator and paid tribute to his life at a private memorial service in the rotunda of the old state Capitol building.
His body will lie in state Wednesday — an honor bestowed only to a great few Arizonans. It would have been his 82nd birthday.
McCain’s casket, draped in an American flag, sat atop the seal of Arizona. Later in the the day, the Capitol was open for the public to pay their respects.
McCain was more than a politician. He was a motivator to be better and do better, Ducey said. He was the only politician who, upon his death, could get Arizona and America to set aside politics and come together, he said.
“John McCain was about more than politics,” Ducey said. “He brought us above politics.”
Make no mistake, McCain took part in politics, plowing through elections with the energy and ferocity of a warrior. And he would fight like hell for the causes and issues he believed in, he said.
But McCain also called on everyone to look beyond their own self-interests. When he talked about “country first,” it was more than a campaign slogan or something to slap on a campaign sign, Ducey said.
McCain lived his life and political career by the idea of putting his country first, he said.
“We sometimes think that politics is life and death, but John McCain knew better because he had actually seen death and dying and tragedy,” Ducey said.
McCain’s love for America and its values stems from his more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. By learning about and understanding McCain’s time as a POW, the senator’s wisdom, values and life take on a much greater context, Ducey said.
Former Sen. Jon Kyl paid homage to McCain, saying the senator was an avid fighter for American values and a staunch defender of American national security.
McCain was a world traveler, said Kyl, who trekked across the world with the late senator. McCain knew more international leaders, more world history and had traveled to more countries than any other American official, he said.
He also knew when and where to assert American influence better than any other political leader, Kyl said.
“He represented our values all over the world as a senator from Arizona,” he said. “America is stronger for his fierce defense of our values.”
While he wasn’t born in Arizona — he moved here at age 45 — he quickly came to feel at home, and felt privileged to represent the Grand Canyon state. McCain is often referred to as Arizona’s favorite adopted son
Despite McCain’s death, his fight for America isn’t over yet, the burden has simply shifted, Ducey said. All Americans are obligated to continue the fight on his behalf, he said.
“As we march forward with the courage and resolve that he would have demanded, may we take comfort in knowing in that fight, John McCain will always have our back,” Ducey said.
Those in attendance at the memorial service included McCain’s wife, Cindy, and his sons Jack and Jim and his children from a previous marriage. His daughter, Meghan, sobbed at her father’s casket. Former Govs. Jan Brewer, Janet Napolitano and Fife Symington attended the service. Ducey was accompanied by his wife, Angela.
Legislative leaders J.D. Mesnard and Steve Yarborough were in attendance, as were Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Treasurer Eileen Klein.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake gave the benediction at the ceremony.
McCain died of glioblastoma — an aggressive form of brain cancer — Saturday at his family’s cabin near Sedona.
The private gathering Wednesday was the first in a series of events commemorating McCain’s life. A memorial service will be held at North Phoenix Baptist Church Thursday, before his body is flown out of state so he can lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Friday.