Pushed in a wheelchair, Roberta McCain paid her respects to her son and comforted her family during Friday's memorial services in the U.S. Capitol rotunda

By Maura Hohman
August 31, 2018 04:50 PM
Credit: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Roberta McCain, the 106-year-old mother of the late senator John McCain, was front and center at her son’s memorial services at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

She attended with the rest of her family — including McCain’s two sons, Doug, 58, and Andy, 56, and daughter, Sidney, 51, from his first marriage and four children from his second: Meghan, 33, Jack, 32, Jimmy, 33, and Bridget, 27. Sen. McCain was married to his second wife Cindy for 38 at years at the time of his death.

Pushed in a wheelchair by a uniformed serviceman, Roberta paid respects to her son at his casket draped in an American flag in the center of the Capitol’s rotunda. She was also positioned right next to the podium from which Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave their tributes to the late Arizona Republican.

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Roberta McCain

Roberta McCain
| Credit: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Roberta McCain

At one point during the service, Robert was seen comforting her granddaughter Meghan, and she also received a special greeting from Vice President Pence before the ceremony began.

Roberta and Meghan McCain
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Roberta and Meghan McCain
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

The service started with a prayer that praised McCain’s “willingness to speak truth as he understood it, even when it was not politically expedient to do so.”

Next, McConnell recalled that McCain — who was often his political opponent — had “America’s fighting spirit. … I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service is a privilege.”

Vice President Mike Pence
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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
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Ryan reminded attendees that “what stands out about John McCain is what he stood for,” adding, “The rich blessings that only freedom can bestow. The sense of purpose that a battle joined can bring. The common humanity that burns in each of our hearts.”

The vice president closed out the speeches with similar sentiments but also shared a story about McCain’s incomparable work ethic.

Sen. John McCain’s family
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Pence recounted a time he had a day packed with travel and meetings alongside the late six-term senator, who was 20 years his senior. Late that evening, Pence said McCain told him, “Mike, we’ve got a few more meetings tonight. Why don’t you turn in? You look like you could use some rest.”

Pence also shared that “John McCain loved the men and women who served in the uniform and he was a champion of the armed forces throughout his career. … Today he lies in the place where he served last, the United States Congress. Soon he will go to rest in the place where he served first.”

Until Thursday, it was unclear if the McCain matriarch would be present for her son’s memorial service because she was recently slowed by a stroke. She also plans to attend McCain’s burial on Saturday, according to NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell.

Roberta and John McCain
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As Roberta grieves the loss of her son, who died of brain cancer at the age of 81 on Saturday, a close McCain family friend told PEOPLE that she is a “very strong woman” who’s retained her “spunky” spirit.

“She is all there, mentally, and is still going strong at 106,” the friend said. “She outlived her 81-year-old son. That tells you a lot. But it’s a tough blow to bury your child.”

RELATED VIDEO: Senator John McCain Dies at Age 81

The insider noted that while Roberta did not travel to Arizona following Friday’s news that her son would be ceasing medical treatment for glioblastoma — the most aggressive form of brain cancer, with which he was diagnosed in July 2017 — the two did speak on the phone recently, and she knew the extent of her son’s illness.

The friend said Roberta was her son’s “biggest supporter and the leader of his fan club.”

“She was incredibly proud of him,” the source added. “His mommy loved him. He knew that.”

Roberta and John McCain
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Meghan opened up to PEOPLE about her relationship with Roberta ahead of her November 2017 wedding, four months after her father was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer. When asked about potentially not having her dad at her wedding, The View host immediately thought of the endurance of her grandmother.

Meghan and John McCain
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“The thing is my grandmother is 105 and still alive and well — my grandma Roberta,” she said. “This sounds arrogant, but it never even occurred to me that I wouldn’t live to be 105 and that all the people in my family wouldn’t live to be 105 because we have this really intensely weird DNA of strong people who live forever. … So you just never think its going to be your family member, but … nobody knows what the future brings.”

McCain’s body will lie in the rotunda for a public viewing, and on Saturday, a service will be held in the war hero’s honor at Washington National Cathedral. Finally, McCain will be buried in the cemetery at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, after a private memorial service.