"We're still trying to make heads and tails of what happened," she said

By Nicholas Rice
October 29, 2020 12:18 PM
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Grief, confusion, loss: These are some of the emotions Herman Cain's daughter described in a recent interview about her father's July death from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Speaking with BuzzFeed News in a piece published Wednesday, Melanie Cain Gallo opened up about what her father's coronavirus infection was like and how the "politicization" of his death, in her words, has affected their family.

"He was so public and so outspoken and so larger than life — so comfortable in front of any camera. You know, no fear. And we are not that," said Gallo of Cain, a former business executive and Republican presidential candidate who saw both national success and scandal.

"We are not public people,” Gallo, 48, said. “We are not media people.”

The thought that Cain's loved ones were uncaring because they have largely avoided public comment "was even more hurtful, because we've heard people say, ‘Oh, they don't even care,’ " his daughter said.

“Well, no. We're still trying to make heads and tails of what happened to our family,” Gallo said.

She said the course of Cain's illness traced back to when she visited her dad on Father's Day in June, one day after he had attended President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the rally, Cain was seen not adhering to social distancing guidelines and without a mask, though another attendee with Cain told BuzzFeed he did wear his mask sometimes that day.

Back in Atlanta, the father-daughter duo went about their lives throughout the week, where they worked closely together before they both began to feel sick.

As their conditions worsened — they "felt awful" — Gallo drove them to get tested for the coronavirus. But, according to BuzzFeed, Cain was "too weak to join" his daughter in line, instead waiting by their car before fainting.

They both tested positive for COVID-19 later that day, according to BuzzFeed.

Herman Cain
| Credit: Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock
Herman Cain
| Credit: MediaPunch/Shutterstock

Gallo recovered, but her father did not. He was ultimately hospitalized for 29 days before dying.

"His [case] just got worse fast to the point where he needed to go to the hospital," Gallo told BuzzFeed. "Once he went in the hospital, he stayed there."

Cain, who was working as a media commentator in Atlanta, was not allowed visitors and could only communicate with his loved ones on the phone and through FaceTime.

The course of his condition, Gallo said, was not always clear.

“He was eventually on a ventilator,” she told BuzzFeed. “But the reports were similar to what you hear for other patients. You know, oxygen issues with the lungs, just things like that. Those things sounded, relatively speaking for COVID, normal.”

Cain's wife, Gloria, received a phone call on July 30 that he was "in distress" and their family was allowed into the hospital to visit him.

"He was basically gone when we got there," Gallo told BuzzFeed. "We said goodbye, but we believe he had already passed."

His fatal infection became a flashpoint — even as those close to Cain said his travel schedule meant he could have contracted the virus in several places, not just the Trump rally in Oklahoma, and that he did make clear he supported precautions like masks and social distancing.

Cain was a notable supporter of President Trump, who has regularly downplayed the threat of the virus and the value of wearing masks.

Gallo told BuzzFeed that seeing her father turned into a talking point as he was dying — "to have all the politicization piled on top of that" — was painful.

“It was one of the worst times that we've experienced," she said.

The situation was complicated by Cain's social media: His official Twitter, which was also run by staffers, had posted a since-deleted tweet in June that people who wouldn't wear masks were "FED UP.” And there was an awkward phase after he died, when the account was re-branded as "The Cain Gang," where tweets were posted echoing Trump's skepticism about the very virus that killed Cain.

Herman Cain
| Credit: Eric Thayer/Getty

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Dan Calabrese, a friend of Cain's who is the longtime editor of his website, told PEOPLE earlier this year that he wished others would stop trying to turn Cain's death into a "political angle."

"This is such a partisan age and people get defined by where they stood on the political spectrum and I’m sure a lot of people will define Herman in that way," Calabrese said. "That was so much not who he was. His favorite thing to do was to help people see a way forward in their lives."

Gallo told BuzzFeed that her father did take coronavirus precautions seriously, even laying out a plan with his team on how to stay safe amid the health crisis. In one of the final tapings of his eponymous show, Cain said that "people have got to take it seriously. Social distancing, sanitizing, washing your hands and wearing masks — that’s how we really get our hands around this, folks."

Gallo said that she questioned her father on why he wasn’t wearing a mask during the Trump rally, to which he responded that he was comfortable with going without one given the precautions that were taken beforehand, such as temperature checks.

But still, Gallo said she understood why there have been critiques of her father's decision to attend the rally.

"I can't fault those people for speaking against him not wearing the mask and all of that," she said.

"What I do have a problem with is the way in which people express those things," she told BuzzFeed, adding that there have been both "vile" and "nasty" things said about her father. She added: "I don’t think that’s necessary."

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