Too many remarkable people have passed away recently, among them the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin; celebrated playwright Neil Simon; and fundraising icon Jerry Panas, a personal mentor. Senator John McCain was one of the greats America lost in August -- a month ago today.
McCain was, of course, the legendary Republican senior senator from Arizona and Navy pilot during the Vietnam War who after being shot down on a combat mission spent over five years at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” as a POW. He returned home a changed man and eventually threw his hat into the political ring, winning a US Senate seat in Arizona in 1986 and running for president twice.
Senator McCain represented what has become increasingly uncommon in Washington and America, no matter your party. He was a statesman who thought for himself. One of McCain’s mentors was legendary Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state. From Jackson, McCain learned that members of Congress are charged with keeping American foreign and domestic policy consistent with our nation’s core values. He learned that voting your conscience is more important than keeping lock step with your party.
What I didn’t realize until Senator McCain passed away is that a member of our Crouch & Associates team was privileged to work with him. In May of 2014, when our Wanda Urbanska was the president of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, she was introduced to the senator at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee. The foundation’s board of directors voted to present Senator McCain with its annual Spirit of Jan Karski Award. Wanda’s assignment was to persuade him to accept it.
When Wanda had a chance to speak with the senator and discuss the heroism and legacy of Jan Karski, she was impressed that the senator already knew a great deal about the legendary hero of the Polish Underground in World War II – especially his patriotism and love of country. What’s more, McCain identified with the famous courier who had been tortured by the Nazis on a military mission. (After careful deliberation, Senator McCain agreed to accept the award.)
As Senator McCain is laid to rest and hailed as one of the most consequential senators of the last half century, we can all remember to step outside our personal comfort zones of ideology or religion, race or nationality, to learn from others, as McCain did. When we do so, we stretch ourselves, and grow, and do the hard work of building relationships and consensus rather than harboring prejudice and maintaining divisions.