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Friends, family bid McCain farewell

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 01. 2018 11:44PM
Cindy McCain follows the casket after the memorial service of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Sept. 1, 2018. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Sen. John McCain's constant 2008 traveling companion and one of his closest ex-colleagues - both from New Hampshire - said his funeral service in the National Cathedral on Saturday was as inspirational, historic and unforgettable as the man himself.

Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., read a popular passage about living a righteous life from the Book of Wisdom.

"It was a wonderful passage from the Bible and I think that I understood why John chose it," Ayotte said during a telephone interview.

"John was tested; God tested him and found him worthy of himself. It epitomized his entire life."

Ayotte sat next to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close McCain friend who gave the final Bible reading of the service.

"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them," Ayotte read.

"In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace."

Former Republican State Chairman Steve Duprey of Concord and his wife, Susan, were seated in the fifth row behind the McCain family.

During the 2008 campaign, Duprey traveled the country with then GOP nominee McCain.

Last week, Duprey was an honorary pall bearer during a memorial service in Phoenix, Ariz.

"The service at the Capitol on Friday and today at the National Cathedral were truly awe-inspiring," Duprey said Saturday.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks at the memorial service of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Sept. 1, 2018. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

"They invoked the majesty of this great country and reminded us of our ideals. This whole celebration of Senator McCain's life was all about the purpose, the ideal and the promise of America. As John McCain believed, he was an imperfect messenger for those ideals but he did his best."

In one of the most emotional moments, daughter Meghan McCain gave a full-throated eulogy that condemned President Trump without mentioning him by name.

"We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served," she said, speaking forcefully through tears.

Taking aim at Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," she said McCain's America was always great.

The two men who denied McCain the presidency, Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, praised their former adversary in separate tributes.

Former President Obama said McCain refused to go into the political gutter to score points and instead elevated our public discourse.

"So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, and phony controversies, and manufactured outrage," Obama said. "It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that."

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the memorial service of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Sept. 1, 2018. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Former President Bush said McCain, a victim of torture during more than five years as a Vietnam prisoner of war, lived a code of honor.

"He loved freedom with a passion of a man who knew its absence. He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators," Bush said. "Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots."

Other New Hampshire residents attending Saturday were N.H. National and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart of Manchester, former VFW State Chairman Paul Chevalier of Hudson and ex-McCain New Hampshire campaign manager Jim Barnett.

Ayotte said the funeral was a tour de force of a man who was able to bring people from all walks of life together to work toward a common goal.

"He planned this whole service, the whole week. I knew before his death that I would be asked to do a reading," Ayotte said.

"It was just really humbling to be part of a service that honored such a great, wonderful man who we've all lost."

Both Duprey and Ayotte said a highlight was the powerful rendition of the Irish hymn "Danny Boy" by opera singer Renee Fleming. The same ballad was played at the funerals of President John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana.

"The playing of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic,' 'America the Beautiful' and finally 'Danny Boy.' There weren't many dry eyes left after all that," Duprey said.

Duprey and Ayotte will be at the private service and burial of McCain at the Naval Academy in Maryland today.

"I will never forget John. I'm honored to be there to send my friend off," Ayotte added.

"I know he's going to a better place."

Reuters News Service contributed to this report.

Cindy McCain follows the casket leaving the memorial service of U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Sept. 1, 2018. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

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