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Region’s leaders remember John McCain for lengthy public service, down-to-earth manner

September 18, 2018
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Republican presidential candidate John McCain, along with his wife, Cindy, and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (second from right) and her husband, Todd, meet Pittsburghers outside Tom’s Diner on the South Side on Saturday, August 30, 2008. (Andrew Russell/Tribune-Review)

Pennsylvanians who knew U.S. Sen. John McCain recalled him as a true American hero with a long record of public service and a down-to-earth nature.

McCain, of Arizona, died Saturday of brain cancer at the age of 81.

Tom Ridge, who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001 and who led the office of Homeland Security from 2001 until 2005, called McCain a “dear friend” and principled leader.

Ridge, who was also a Vietnam veteran and who served six terms as a Republican member of Congress, praised McCain’s heroism in military service. He called McCain’s decision to stay with fellow prisoners of war when the Vietnamese offered to release him because of his father’s renown “something of which both heroes and legends are made, and in my opinion, he’s both.”

Ridge campaigned with McCain in Western Pennsylvania leading up to the 2008 election, including a stop in Ridge’s hometown of Erie.

“Campaigning with John while he was running for president was like hanging out with John,” said Ridge, describing McCain as quick-witted, charming and occasionally self-effacing.

Ridge praised McCain’s global travel “in support of those working toward democracy,” calling him the “best spokesperson we’ve had for American exceptionalism in a long time.”

With a record as a moderate himself, Ridge praised fellow Republican McCain’s across-the-aisle work during his decades of public service despite what he called the “unfortunate mindset today that somehow you’re not a good Republican if you try to work with Democrats.”

Jim Roddey, former chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County who campaigned for McCain during his 2008 presidential bid, referenced many of the same qualities.

“He didn’t always follow the lead of the Republican Party,” Roddey said. “Sometimes he got criticized for that by the Republicans. But I’ve never seen him fazed at all by the criticism; he just let it all roll off his shoulders. I guess after being in a prison camp, it’s kind of hard to shake off his resolve.”

Roddey, a former Marine, said he and McCain talked politics and their military service when they were together.

“He was the most honest politician I think I’ve ever known,” Roddey said. “He didn’t hesitate to tell you exactly what he thought. He didn’t try to sugarcoat things or try to play politics; he’s just a real solid individual.”

Roddey recalled McCain stopping in Western Pennsylvania three or four times during his presidential campaign, including a Washington County stop with his new running mate, Sarah Palin.

“He didn’t just meet with officials; he talked to regular people,” Roddey said. “He would work the room with committee members.

“He never overpromised. He was very practical, objective. He was a great senator.”

“Throughout his time in the House of Representatives and more than 30 years in the Senate, John McCain was a tireless fighter for his principles and a champion of U.S. service members,” Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, of Scranton, said in a statement. “We have all benefited from Senator McCain’s lifetime of service.”

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, of the Lehigh Valley, said on Twitter that McCain was “not afraid to fight for what he thought was right, even when it was unpopular,” adding he led a life that should be “admired and respected by all Americans.”

David J. Hickton, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the founding director of the Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security at the University of Pittsburgh, said he was honored to meet McCain when serving on the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for the Kennedy Center around 2000.

Hickton called McCain an “American hero who displayed courage at every stage of his exemplary life of service with honor.”

Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio said McCain was “the epitome of a self-sacrificing public servant and an American hero” and “a family man of great integrity.”

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