Opinion

Passing of a true American hero

  • Father figure: John McCain, right, after lunch at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club during his 2008 visit with former US Consul-General Gregory Slayton

On Saturday the United States of America buried a true American hero — Senator John McCain. Senator McCain was many things: a legendary American fighter pilot; an incredibly brave prisoner of war who refused to accept early release offered him because his father was the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet — even though he was repeatedly tortured; a man of great moral courage who stood up for the persecuted and the powerless; and perhaps the most influential US senator of my lifetime.

Yes, he was all these things, but much more.

He was a wonderful father, as we heard from his daughter, Meagan, at the National Cathedral.

He was a devoted and loving husband of 38 years to his wife, Cindy. And he was a great mentor and friend to many, including myself.

John McCain taught me many things, mostly by showing and sometimes by telling. He taught me that “Character is Destiny”. He taught me the importance of living a life of honour.

He showed me again the importance of family and friendship. And he taught me the power of laughter, of not taking oneself too seriously, and the glory of serving a cause greater than oneself.

Since I didn’t have a real father growing up, John’s example of courage, service and kindness influenced me deeply. I will never forget our times together: for example, when he was my guest at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. He was probably the most famous person in the entire ballroom of 2,500 people, so people kept asking him for selfies.

Mostly these were not famous or powerful people; they were people John would never see again. But he did every picture.

He was one of the most powerful political leaders in the world. He could have just ignored them or asked security to shoo them away. But he did just the opposite.

He smiled and joked, and made each person feel special. He was a blessing to everyone.

He and his wonderful wife visited us in Bermuda when I was serving as the Consul-General — to help us to promote a joint US/Bermuda/UK initiative. He was endlessly asking questions, wanting to learn everything possible about your beautiful island and its 400 years of history.

Despite a crowded schedule, rather than napping or retiring early, John was always up for one more adventure.

Whether boating around the Island, meeting Bermudian leaders or eating at Harbourfront, he loved the whole visit.

He realised that life is short and that we need to make the most of every single day we are given.

I learnt so much from John McCain, and I was deeply honoured to be with presidents and prime ministers to see him off on Saturday at the National Cathedral. The resonance of his passing, and how strongly our nation has responded to it, tells me that we long for leaders such as John McCain — leaders who put their country’s interests before their own.

I didn’t always agree with Senator McCain, but I know he always did what he believed to be in the best interests of the American people.

That is servant leadership; the most powerful type of leadership in the world.

Goodbye, Senator. Thank you for your service to your family, your friends, our nation and our world.

Thank you for a life of honour, for your love for what is good and right in this world, and for sticking up for the little guy ... always. And thank you for being like a father to me, the father I never had. You will never be forgotten. Never.

Gregory W. Slayton is the former US Consul-General to Bermuda under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He now lives in Dallas with his family. He is the managing director of Slayton Capital and serves on the board of Clarien Bank. He is also a part-time Ivy League & Peking University professor and the chairman of the Fellowship of Fathers Foundation. He is also the author of three global bestsellers, including Be a Better Dad Today