'The Comfort We Got From John Meant So Much': Sen. Leahy Reflects On McCain’s Life

Aug 31, 2018

Arizona Sen. John McCain died Saturday, Aug. 25, at 81, and all this week the passing of the former naval airman, Vietnam veteran, senator and past presidential nominee has been marked with ceremonies and memorials from Arizona to Washington, D.C.

Many of McCain's Congressional colleagues have reflected on his life and career, including Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who worked alongside McCain for 32 years in the U.S. Senate.

At an April 2006 news conference on immigration legislation, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (far left) and Sen. Robert Menendez (far right) frame a smiling Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. John McCain.
Credit Dennis Cook / AP

Sen. Leahy recalled the relationship the two men shared both as colleagues in the Capitol but also in their personal lives.

Leahy recounted his wife Marcelle's diagnosis with the skin cancer melanoma, the same form of cancer McCain was successfully treated for in 2000. Both had the melanoma on their left cheek.

Leahy recalls Marcelle undergoing "numerous" surgeries to treat the cancer, which was ultimately successful. Whenever McCain would see her after that, Leahy recalls, the late senator would "pat her on the left cheek and say, 'How are you doing?' And she would do the same to him. And they would hug."

"The comfort we got from John, on that, it meant so much to both of us," Leahy recalled. "These past few days, we've talked about that often, and I have to admit, we get teared up."

Leahy also remembers the last time he and McCain were together:

"We just met quietly, the two of us. To say goodbye. And he could tell I was getting kind of emotional ... And he put his arm around me and he said, 'You know Pat, I should have died when that plane went down. I should have died when I was in prison in Hanoi. I'm 80 years old. I've had a good life. I've accomplished far, far more than I ever thought I would. Don't be sad. It's a life—I feel, a life worth living. And we hugged each other."

Vermont Edition host Bob Kinzel spoke with Sen. Leahy on Wednesday, Aug. 29, about McCain's death, their decades together in the Senate, and the friendship they formed over many years working together.

Broadcast on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Correction 9/3/2018 11:45 a.m. A typo of "undoing" was fixed to read "undergoing."