As a journalist (and very curious person, by nature), I always keep a list of people I’d like to interview. In our industry alone, there are several “white whales” I’m constantly chasing.
But the list extends far past the reaches of healthcare IT — or even healthcare, for that matter. In the world of sports, I have several “dream interview” candidates, including Venus Williams and Roger Clemens.
In the world of business, it’s Barbara Corcoran.
In music, John Mayer.
In politics, I’ve had the same two for years: John McCain and Barack Obama. Sadly, I’ll never have the chance to meet Senator McCain, who of course recently passed away after battling brain cancer. There are so many questions I would’ve peppered him with.
What kept you going during those dark years as a prisoner of war? What was the most difficult aspect of returning home and re-assimilating into society? Why, after enduring so much, did you choose a life of public service?
A few days ago, as I watched some of the coverage of his memorial, I got some of those answers, as well as some insight into what inspired him, during the string of eulogies delivered by political allies and rivals alike.
Below are just some of the quotes.
Former President Barack Obama, speaking about the virtues that guided McCain throughout his life, and his willingness to admit when he was wrong:
- “In captivity, John learned in ways that few of us ever will that each moment, each day, each choice is a test. And John McCain passed that test again, and again, and again. And that is why when John spoke of virtues like service and duty, it did not ring hollow. They were not just words to him, it was a truth that he had lived and for which he was prepared to die.
- “He had a temper. When it flared up, it was a force of nature… but as quick as his passions might flare, he was just as quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness. He knew more than most his own flaws and his blind spots, and he knew how to laugh at himself, and that self-awareness made him all the more compelling.”
Former VP Joe Biden on the beliefs McCain held so strongly:
- “John’s story is an American story. It’s not hyperbole. It’s the American story, grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness, intolerance [of] the abuse of power.
- “His belief, and it was deep, that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything, was both unflagging and reassuring that this man believed it so strongly.”
Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger on what McCain faced upon his return from captivity:
- “John returned to America divided over its presidency, divided over the war. Amidst all of the turmoil and civic unrest, divided over the best way to protect our country and over whether it should be respected for its power or its ideals.” McCain, he noted, thought it could be both, which led him “to collaborate with political rivals and reconcile with enemies.”
Former President George W. Bush on the “code” that McCain lived by, and what he learned from his good friend:
- “John – as he was the first to tell you – was not a perfect man. But he dedicated his life to national ideals that are as perfect as men and women have yet conceived. He was motivated by a vision of America carried ever forward, ever upward, on the strength of its principles.
- For John and me, there was a personal journey – a hard-fought political history. Back in the day, he could frustrate me. And I know he’d say the same thing about me. But he also made me better.
- Bush also talked about McCain’s willingness to confront policies and practices he believed “were unworthy of his country” and to let anyone, even a high-ranking officer, know when they were failing those who they were supposed to be leading.
McCain’s legacy is someone who drove — and, let’s face it, sometimes pushed — those around him to do better; to be better. It’s a goal most of us share, and while it may sound lofty, it doesn’t have to be. It can be something as simple as helping to clean up a park, or something as challenging as improving the culture of a workplace.
His legacy is one of servant leadership at its best; but rather than putting individuals first, he put the country first, and in doing so, became an inspiration to many. And so, at his passing, we witnessed a display of bipartisanship that, to me, speaks volumes. As Kissinger stated, “None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America.”
Granted, most of us will never have an opportunity on quite the scale that McCain did, but we do have the opportunity to make the world a better place.