Former premiers pay tribute to McCain
Former premiers have paid tribute to two-times presidential candidate John McCain, who died on Saturday at the age of 81.
Alex Scott met Mr McCain in 2006, when former United States Consul General Gregory Slayton led a delegation from Bermuda to Washington.
Mr Scott said: “He stood out on a day when the faces of the other dignitaries merged into one. I felt like our trip to the US had been made worthwhile if for no other reason than the honour, and I underscore the word ‘honour’, of meeting Senator John McCain.”
Bermuda was a favourite vacation spot for Mr McCain, a former naval officer who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
He and his wife, Cindy, visited the island in 2007, a year before he lost out on the presidency to Barack Obama.
He met Ewart Brown, then the Premier, gave a brief interview to veteran journalist Bryan Darby, and defended the island’s business reputation in The Royal Gazette.
When he met with Mr Scott, Mr McCain discussed Bermuda at length.
“He was most accommodating,” Mr Scott said.
“He and I discussed, at his suggestion, the possibility of a US coastguard being introduced here. Here was a leading senator who could have worked hard to impress me about who he was and what he did in the US Senate, but instead he put his background and experience into a context that was meaningful to me as the Premier of Bermuda.”
Mr Scott had told Mr McCain he had no appetite for a gaming industry in Bermuda, to which he replied: “You have made a wise decision because the experience we have in our state is that the house gets the profits and the community gets the problems.”
“I will never forget it,” said Mr Scott. “I have used that phrase many times over. It was that down-to-earth wisdom that set him apart.”
Mr McCain met Dr Brown and a small group for a breakfast during his 2007 Bermuda trip.
“I found him to be approachable and straightforward,” Dr Brown said.
“I have always admired him for his tenacity and his willingness to stand on principle. The world has lost a special person.”
During that trip, an unsuspecting Mr Darby received a call from Mr Slayton asking if he could make it to a last-minute interview.
“I almost fell off my chair — he said I had five minutes,” Mr Darby recalled.
He added that he grabbed a camera operator, jumped in his van and raced from VSB on Reid Street to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, where Mr McCain was about to board a boat.
“There were security guards and lots of famous people. The first three minutes of the interview was about Bermuda and how much he loved the island.
“I went on to ask him serious questions about Bermuda’s relationship with the US. He said, ‘I can assure you that if I am elected President, there will be nothing in my agenda that will harm this relationship.’”
When Mr Darby finished, he turned to his camerawoman and saw that her face was “stricken” as batteries had run out and she had lost the second, and best, half of the interview.
“I got my scoop but it was all about Bermuda, which was boring. Of all my list of scoops, he was the top one — he was the most important. I am glad to have met him and for him to be so gracious.”
McCain’s visits to Bermuda were not without controversy. The Obama campaign accused him of receiving $50,000 worth of donations from insurance company executives and their lobbyists.
An advert mocked: “He took a vacation, and so much more.”
A visit to the Bermuda Naval Air Station in 1991 was also criticised when McCain hosted a family reunion at the base for more than a week at taxpayers’ expense.
Looking back on the controversy, Mr Scott added: “I think politics is politics. If you try to make an issue out of every apparent benefit a politician receives, you would end up not appreciating contributions the politician made but the sacrifice that his family made.”