Sometimes a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee, and sometimes it is so much more.
Ian Cameron was a 16-year-old Mayo High School sophomore when he met his personal hero, Sen. John McCain, on April 12, 2006. It would be a life-changing encounter, setting him on a path that would take take him to Washington, D.C. as a page, the U.S. Naval Academy and then the Marine Corps.
Cameron has been reflecting on that meeting with McCain 12 years ago since the passing of the one-time GOP presidential hopeful and maverick politician from brain cancer
“There’s certain values and role models that I’ve looked up to. And John McCain is certainly a prominent one,” Cameron said.
And a cup of coffee was at the center of it.
When Cameron heard that McCain would be in Rochester for a fundraiser, Cameron and another Mayo classmate, Sam Hagedorn, dressed in suits and ties and camped out at what is today the Apache Hotel in the hope of meeting McCain, who was then positioning himself to be the GOP presidential nominee.
“We were kind of milling about, and our game plan was just to be able to shake his hand as he walked into the event,” Cameron said.
People paid $200 to $300 per plate for the privilege to attend the fundraiser, which was held on behalf of then-U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht.
While waiting for their opportunity, Cameron and Hagedorn struck up a conversation with an area attorney, Andrew Johnson. After hearing their story, Johnson offered to write a check so the two 16-year-olds could get into the event.
“We thought that was pretty cool,” Cameron said.
Cameron and Hagedorn met McCain. They had their photo taken with him. It was then that McCain leaned over and told the Mayo sophomores that he had a “mission” for them. He gave them a $20 bill and said he was looking for a cup of coffee.
“I like cappuccino straight,” Cameron recalled McCain saying. “Get something for yourselves. So sure enough, we took the $20 bill and there was a Dunn Brothers Coffee around the corner. So we get the senator a cup of coffee and got something for ourselves.”
The transaction was captured by a front-page photo that appeared the same day in the April 12, 2006, issue of the Post Bulletin. There is McCain, coffee cup in hand, chatting with Cameron and Hagedorn. The next day, a member of Gutknecht’s staff called Cameron and encouraged him to apply for the school-year page program. Cameron had earlier applied to a page program but had been rejected.
Cameron would become a page, setting the stage for a cascade of events in his life. While in Washington, D.C., he would become exposed to and eventually attend the U.S. Naval Academy, following in the footsteps of his hero.
Now an infantry captain in the Marines, Cameron, 28, is on his own path of service. In about three weeks, he and his unit will deploy to Helmand province in Afghanistan for nine months.
“John McCain was somebody I always looked up to, even before I met him,” Cameron said. “Especially in the current political climate, he definitely was a voice of integrity, a voice of reason. He just seemed like such an anomaly and so I always respected him for that.”