Tucsonans recall McCain as a friend and mentor at Arizona memorial service

A memorial service for Arizona Sen. John McCain in Phoenix drew thousands of mourners Thursday, Tucsonans included. 

Alison Coleman, a 29-year-old teacher who grew up in Tucson, felt fortunate to receive a ticket to the service at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

McCain had been a frequent point of discussion in Coleman’s family, noting her grandparents referred to him simply as “John” when discussing him — or more often, quoting him.

“He was a household name in my family. We had a picture of him over the family dining room table,” she said.

Wearing her grandmother’s pin from when she served in the Arizona state legislature, Coleman said her family often served as delegates at the Republican National Convention.

A close relationship between the senator and her family intensified the day her grandfather died.

“My grandpa passed about eight years ago,” she said. “He passed at home because he had been in hospice care, and my mother called to inform the Senator’s office. And five minutes later, McCain called to talk to my grandmother,” she recalled.

Crying, Coleman described the phone call her grandmother, former State Rep. Lou Ann Preble, took from McCain.

“He talked to her the whole way through, he is a really good guy,” she said. “I will be forever grateful, and my entire family will be forever grateful to him. It was a small gesture. I am sure it was 20 minutes of his day, but it is 20 minutes we will never forget.”

Tucson resident Rob Egan spent both Wednesday and Thursday in Phoenix to pay his respects to the senator.

The 23-year-old interned for McCain during McCain’s re-election campaign. He estimates that he made thousands and thousands of phone calls in 2016, asking Arizona residents to vote for McCain — someone Egan looked up to while growing up in Kansas, saying he knew who the Maverick of the Senate was when he was just 5 years old.

His death has been heartbreaking, Egan said.

“I feel like the last lion of the Senate is gone,” Egan said. “The standard bearer is gone, and I am incredibly sad.”

It has been years since Tucsonan Julie Prince spent time with McCain.

A retired reporter who covered McCain during the Keating Five scandal, Prince remembers a younger senator who was hard to keep up with on a tour of the border physically.

While they may have clashed as McCain was famously known for doing with reporters over the years, Prince remembers something else.

The fire that the senator had when talking about politics and the issues facing his constituents.

“I remember his intensity,” she said.

She came to Phoenix from Tucson to say goodbye to the Senator, noting she learned a lot from McCain.

“We lost an incredible human being,” Prince said on Thursday.

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