The rebellious daughter of a wealthy Oklahoma oil wildcatter who settled his family in Los Angeles, Mrs. McCain eloped and became a Navy wife in 1933. As her husband rose to global military prominence, she lived in capitals and naval bases in Europe, Asia and the Americas for nearly four decades. Her children were born in Honolulu, in the Panama Canal Zone and at the submarine base in Groton, Conn.
Under relentless Navy reassignment moves, her youngest son, Joe, had attended 17 schools by the time he finished the ninth grade. During World War II Mrs. McCain, living in Hawaii, rarely saw her husband, a submarine commander whose dangers on monthslong patrols in the Pacific were the stuff of wartime legends and family nightmares.
With husbands gone, wives took on all the tasks, Senator McCain wrote:
“Our mothers run our households, pay the bills and manage most of our upbringing. For long stretches at a time they are required to be both mother and father. They move us from base to base. They see to our religious, educational and emotional needs. They arbitrate our quarrels, discipline us and keep us safe.”
After World War II, when her husband became the Navy’s information chief and congressional liaison, the McCains kept a home on Capitol Hill. Senators, representatives and Pentagon brass were frequent visitors at their home, which later became the Capitol Hill Club.
“My mother’s charm proved as effective with politicians as it did with naval officers,” Senator McCain recalled in his memoir.
Her husband was promoted to rear admiral in 1958. Her father-in-law, John S. McCain Sr., was also an admiral, who commanded Western Pacific Naval air and carrier task forces in World War II.