by Victor Riches

After a protracted battle with brain cancer, Senator John McCain passed away Saturday afternoon at his beloved ranch outside of Sedona, Arizona.

The Senator had been a staple of Arizona politics since he replaced John Rhodes in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1983.  Four years later he ran for the U.S. Senate, replacing our namesake at the Institute, Barry Goldwater, after he retired from elected politics.  Senator Goldwater represented Arizona for 30 years in the United States Senate.  Senator McCain beat that impressive feat by one year, serving in the Senate for 31.  Between the two lions, Arizona has been a force in national politics since 1953.

Interestingly, John McCain’s tenure in the Senate coincided almost perfectly with the establishment of the Goldwater Institute in 1988.  In a very real way the Institute and Senator McCain grew up together, each finding prominence and influence in Arizona and across the country over the past 30 years.

Growing up together, however, does not always mean seeing eye-to-eye, especially when it comes to matters of policy.  And there were many issues we did not agree on over the years, the most prominent being the $100 million subsidization of the Coyotes hockey team, which the Institute vigorously opposed.  The Senator supported it, going so far as to suggest that Barry Goldwater himself would have disagreed with our position.  This was, of course, hyperbole, and the Institute won that particular battle.  There would be other disagreements as well, and our relationship with the Senator became distant as time elapsed.

I myself had only a few personal interactions with Senator McCain over the years.  Although we did not always agree on political matters, I would be remiss not to mention that contrary to his gruff public persona, he was always extremely gracious with his time and warm in his manner.  I remember those meetings with great fondness and appreciation.

Senator McCain wore many hats during his life, some sought and some unwillingly foisted upon him: politician, maverick, POW, presidential candidate, war hero.  These adjectives are certainly all accurate, at least at different points during his lifetime.  But I think the one word that best describes John McCain, a man who lived a life so remarkable that very few can relate to it, is this: soldier.

Not only did he serve in the military for 23 years, earning the rank of Captain and receiving multiple service medals (including the Purple Heart), he carried the soldier’s mentality throughout his political career as well.  He understood and maneuvered the actual battlefields of war as well as the metaphorical battlefields of life and politics.  He knew that some battles would be won and some lost, but he never stopped fighting, all the way through his final battle with brain cancer.

Senator John McCain was a true soldier, a warrior to the end who never put down his sword.  So rest in peace, soldier – you’ve certainly earned it.

Victor Riches is President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.