John McCain's mother has embraced a life of adventure — and close family and friends
Every Sunday afternoon for almost two decades, Greta Van Susteren, the television anchor and author, has gone to the Washington, D.C. home of her best friend Roberta McCain, the 107-year-old mother of the late Sen. John McCain, for long talks over coffee with cream and sugar, served on formal silver.
“We just yak,” says Van Susteren, 64, whom Roberta has regaled with stories of adventurous world travel and rubbing shoulders with fascinating people — including famed aviator Amelia Earhart. “She’s got a wickedly smart, inquiring mind.”
This Sunday was a gathering of a different sort: Some 50 family members and friends took Roberta out to celebrate her turning 107 on Feb. 7.
“I love you Nana Roberta — I am so happy to celebrate with you today at your 107th birthday party, you are truly incredible and we are so grateful for you,” granddaughter and The View co-host Meghan McCain, 34, wrote on Twitter.
Roberta’s adventures in later life oftentimes included identical twin sister Rowena, who died at 100. Van Susteren on Sunday tweeted a photo of the pair, writing: “Mrs McCain and her identical twin 100 years ago?”
The sisters determined that age would not be a barrier to their travels.
“When they were about 96 or 97 they traveled all over the world together,” says Van Susteren. “Both widows at that time. They went to Paris, they got off the plane, and they went to the counter to rent a car, and the French wouldn’t rent them a car because they were too old.”
“So they went over to a BMW dealership, and they bought a little red BMW, which they drove around Europe in, and she had it shipped home,” Van Susteren says. “It’s still sitting in her driveway.”
As John McCain wrote in his memoir Faith Of My Fathers, “My mother grew to be an extroverted and irrepressible woman.”
Van Susteren believes Roberta’s zest for adventure and the closeness of family are some of Roberta’s keys to living to 107.
Roberta lives with the youngest of her three children, 76-year-old Joe McCain, who leads his mother in daily, hour-long leg and arm exercises. “She’s a good sport and Joe’s amazing,” Van Susteren says. “He has kept that woman in great health.”
She’s also very close to John’s widow, Cindy McCain, 64. “She loves Cindy,” says Van Susteren. “When I ask her about Cindy she says, ‘Cindy’s perfect, Cindy has raised those kids so well.'”
On Roberta’s insatiable curiosity about the world, “I’ll say, ‘Mrs. McCain, I’m going to Lahore, Pakistan.’ She says to me, ‘Oh, the Shalimar Gardens there are beautiful.’ Then I say, ‘Mrs. McCain, I’m gonna be going to Haiti.’ And she’ll say, ‘Oh, I stopped there once.'”
“Every place I say I’ve been, and I’ve been all over the world, she outdoes me,” Van Susteren says. “She’s a character. And she’s smart.”
These days, McCain’s travels are limited to Washington, D.C. outings; with a limited ability to walk, she gets around in a wheelchair.
“She’s got nurses now. But they give her such dignity,” says Van Susteren. “They put her in nice clothes and put her lipstick and makeup on. And she receives people. She talks to people.”
When John McCain died last year of brain cancer, the world saw Roberta comforting Meghan at the funeral, holding her tearful granddaughter’s hand. On how John’s death has affected Roberta, Van Susteren says: “She’s a strong military wife and mother. She’s very stoic that way. She’s strong.”
With Roberta’s jones for travel now limited, politics continues to fire Roberta up — but Van Susteren won’t “dare” share what the McCain matriarch says. “She’s kept my confidences, I keep hers,” says Van Susteren. “I can tell her anything. When I say she’s my best friend, she really is.”