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Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama Speak at John McCain's Funeral; Meghan McCain's Speech at John McCain's Funeral Draws Attention for Possible References to President Trump; Singers Perform at Aretha Franklin's Funeral; Interview with Co-Author of Biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; John McCain's Mother Roberta McCain Profiled. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 1, 2018 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:26] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone, and thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. The final farewell to Senator John McCain after a week of honoring, mourning, and celebrating his life, colleagues and friends say final goodbyes today during an emotional service fit for a true American hero. That service radiated the values close to John McCain's heart -- pride, patriotism, his strong relationships as a beloved colleague, father, and husband, and a reminder that there is more to Washington than your personal politics.

His daughter, Meghan McCain, giving a heartfelt, powerful tribute to her father, that sentiment echoing throughout the service.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: I am here before you today saying the words I have never wanted to say, giving the speech I have never wanted to give.

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 lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.

America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.


MCCAIN: Love defined my father. As a young man, he wondered if he would measure up to his distinguished lineage. I miss him so badly. I want to tell him that he did.

Dad, I love you. I always have. All that I am, all that I hope, all that I dream is grounded in what you taught me. You loved me, and you showed me what love must be. My father is gone, and my sorrow is immense, but I know his life, and I know it was great because it was good.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Some lives are so vivid, it's difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant and distinctive, it's hard to think of them stilled. A man who seldom rested is laid to rest. At various points throughout his long career, John confronted policies and practices that he believed were unworthy of his country. To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist we are better than this. America is better than this.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: John liked being unpredictable, even a little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a senator should be, and he didn't want a memorial that was going to be prepackaged either. He had been to hell and back, and yet somehow never lost his energy or his optimism or his zest for life.

What better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.


OBAMA: And we laughed with each other. And we learned from each other. And we never doubted the other man's sincerity or the other man's patriotism, or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. A not so subtle jab or plural jabs at the president from the senator's daughter and others all while the president was actually at his Virginia golf club simultaneous to this funeral, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, there was no question. The sheer fact that the 43rd and the 44th presidents of the United States were there, former rivals of John McCain for sure, telling his story, talking about his legacy, was certainly a striking contrast to the fact that the current president was not there. He kept a respectful distance, if you will, playing golf outside Washington in Virginia, tweeting about unrelated matters, which even some supporters of the president said seemed a bit, perhaps, off topic today.

But the reality, the message, Fredricka, inside that Washington national cathedral today was, in fact, a final lesson in John McCain in civility, in fact, a plea for sort of an end to this tribal politics that really has divided the country.

[14:05:05] And I was really struck, Fredricka, just watching this play out, as everyone did, just this living tableau of history from Republicans and Democrats sitting side-by-side. There were no partisan aisles in this. It was simply a celebration of John McCain, to be sure, but also a sort of bigger than that, a bit of a reflection of our politics in this moment. But this is exactly what John McCain wanted. He scripted all of this as we've been talking about all week, but so pointed that he asked Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the two men who stopped him from his biggest dream of being president, to send him off today. And boy, was he sent off in scripture and song. I don't think any of us will ever, soon, at least forget Cindy McCain's emotional moment as opera star Renee Fleming sang "Danny Boy," a crushing moment there to watch her. But certainly, Fredricka, a moment of time, I guess, today, history passing here today in the capital.

WHITFIELD: John McCain's character was on display.

ZELENY: Right.

WHITFIELD: Posthumously, and it lived through the words and these anecdotes from people, just as you said, may have been his political adversaries at one time. But the way they talked about their relationships that came from their differences was just so striking.

ZELENY: It was. And I think we should also take note of other messages there today. I was struck by Joe Lieberman, of course, a former Democratic senator, longtime close friend of John McCain's. He was invited, of course, to speak from the altar, to give a tribute. And the story he told of all the stories he could have told from, his global travels with Senator McCain, he told the story of how John McCain asked him in 2008 to be his running mate. And he said, no, I couldn't really do that, I'm a Democrat. And he said, no, Joe, that's the point. Of course, we know that that is not what ended up happening. McCain's advisers blocked him from doing that, said that would be a disaster, you must pick someone more exciting. So of course, he picked the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, just about 10 years ago this month. And of course, she was also not invited. Senator McCain, the senator's family, did not want her there as part of that legacy.

So a bit of a, I would say, a correction of history. Senator McCain was not proud of that moment, but the fact that Joe Lieberman was telling that story, I think, today spoke volumes about how our politics has changed and Senator McCain's own role in that.

WHITFIELD: And Jeff, before you go, you talk about the uninvited, President Trump and Sarah Palin, but was it odd or have -- did other guests or have people even been talking about it being odd that Trump's daughter and son-in-law would be there along with the Trump administration's secretary of defense and chief of staff in the absence of the president.

ZELENY: I think that made his absence all the more striking. This was one of those tribal moments, if you will, in Washington. All of official Washington was indeed gathered there, former presidents. You do not have events like this very often. Really, funerals are essentially the only exception to this.

And we see right there in the screen, the president's really top two advisers, people who were closest to him, they were at the funeral. So I think this was, in a respect, the White House sending its respects to something that is expected of them in the normal traditions of Washington. Senator McCain didn't want President Trump there. President Trump certainly, I think, didn't mind not being there. No love was lost on either side there. But it was certainly striking that he couldn't be there because this is the state of our politics today, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Because he wasn't invited. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

ZELENY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: With me now, a man who knew John McCain well. Max Baucus served nearly 36 years in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from Montana. Many of those years, he served across the political aisle from Republican Senator John McCain. Senator, good to see you. What a powerful ceremony. And to hear so many, from family members to political adversaries, really talk about the character of John McCain, the willingness to be inclusive, the true patriot, what struck you about the ceremony today?

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Many commentators have noted his dedication to service, duty, honor. The military code of honor was almost in his DNA.

[14:10:00] But I was also struck with the dedication and the exposition of his faith, the hymns, the scripture. I think it underlines something that we've not talked a lot about, that is, John's belief in God, in his faith, that sustained him so much. And if it were not for that, I think the service would be a little bit vacant.

WHITFIELD: This was an extraordinary sendoff over many days from Arizona to Washington. Just reflecting on today, where there were so many very poignant moments, going to the Vietnam veterans memorial wall, the family collectively being at the national cathedral, his mother. All of this, while there were hundreds of people there, in some way this felt very intimate, didn't it?

BAUCUS: There will be no other John McCain in my lifetime. Some people say that people are not irreplaceable. I think John McCain is irreplaceable. There is no one like him. He's so honest, so dedicated, leaves so much at service, his love, he has no ounce of bitterness or guile or deception in his body. He was straight. You may not always agree with him, but he told you what he thought. And when he made a mistake, he would come back and apologize. I experienced that a couple of times. Once he blew up at me over something. But then he came back, Max, Max, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. He just worked so hard for his country.

A big message here for me, too, is how important it is for America to be strong in the world. That's John McCain's credo, America has to be strong for America's values, it's military might. And I just hope that a lot of people take stock of who he was and say, hey, maybe we all should be a little bit more like John McCain. I know there's a lot of talk about division in Washington. That's true, but John lived in Washington. He served in Washington. He is not divisive, so if he could have done it, others can do a good job too.

WHITFIELD: Right. And divisive really is the definition of politics, right? Everyone can't have this monolithic way of thinking, but there is a way in which to handle it, and so many have talked about how John McCain exemplifies how to handle that. So, as the nation says farewell to John McCain, do you also believe it's a goodbye to a certain grace, an era of grace in politics?

BAUCUS: It's a goodbye to John McCain, the man. What it should not be goodbye to John McCain, the person, what he stood for. We should take John McCain as a good example of what we can and should be. And if we keep that memory of John McCain alive, we're going to do a lot better.

WHITFIELD: All right, Max Baucus, thank you so much. Good to see you.

BAUCUS: You bet.

WHITFIELD: Next, as the nation mourns the legacy of war hero John McCain, more on his daughter Meghan's emotional eulogy striking a political chord, blasting what she calls the cheap rhetoric.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.




[14:17:38] WHITFIELD: All right, back to our special coverage of Senator John McCain's funeral service in Washington. His daughter's fiery tribute to her father captured everyone's attention, especially this part.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: 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. He was a great fire who burned bright.


WHITFIELD: Joining me right now, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. Well, that was pretty direct without mentioning any names. What were your thoughts at the time of hearing it?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, Meghan McCain gave a beautiful eulogy. She somehow balanced a kind of power, almost channeling her father, with also almost breaking down and grieving mightily. She did it, took some real swipes at President Trump. There was no mistaking when she says, you know, we don't need to make America great again, it's always been great. Those are purposeful line. Donald Trump wasn't invited to the National Cathedral, so it's going to be played a lot, that clip. But I hope people don't just look for the pull lines but just rewind or watch her entire eulogy. It was quite beautiful, as were all of them. There were five spoken tributes, and everybody did a marvelous job.

WHITFIELD: And how do you think this funeral service will be remembered for the descriptions of the character, of the behavior, the patriotism of John McCain, or do you also see it as being remembered for the forum in which people felt comfortable to rebuke the sitting president even without mentioning his name, largely by drawing comparisons to the president and John McCain, without mentioning the president's name.

BRINKLEY: Well, that's exactly right. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama never mentioned Donald Trump's name, but it was there in their remarks when they talked about how McCain had no bigotry whatsoever.

[14:20:00] There were lines, particularly from George W. Bush, that had Donald Trump written all over them. However, what I think's going to be most remembered here is how remarkable it is that John McCain lost to George W. Bush, never was able to get the Republican nomination because of Bush, and lost in 2008 to Barack Obama, yet he chose those two to deliver his eulogy. And absent from everything was Sarah Palin, who, if you asked me in 2008 or 2009 if that was possible that John McCain would pass and there would be no Sarah Palin in the room at the memorial service, I wouldn't have believed that possible. But she --

WHITFIELD: And what did that say to you that she was among the two uninvited, that we know of.

BRINKLEY: It tells you that John McCain didn't really cotton to the alt-right, to the far right, to the Trumpian way of politics. He was a straight shooter, John McCain. You could trust him for a handshake agreement. He was balanced. McCain never really cared for the extremes of the left or the right in the end. He was quite a centrist figure.

And I thought Dr. Kissinger made a great point when he talked about, it's not just here in the United States mourning John McCain, talking about how he loved team America, but the world misses John McCain. Anywhere where people are fighting for democracy, whether it's in the Ukraine or Yemen or South Africa, wherever people are fighting for the so-called four freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt, John McCain is at your side. So, there was a global cast to the McCain legacy that came out of the eulogies today.

WHITFIELD: And so now you have me wondering, I wonder if posthumously, John McCain, if his goal was to kind of craft a message, less about him but more about hopefulness or an aspiration for America. BRINKLEY: Exactly. That's what he was doing. He did get to

stagecraft what we've experienced this week. The net effect of it is to remind us that Democrats, Republicans have to get along, that bipartisanship is a value, that we have to never forget our men and women in the armed forces and constantly honor them, and make sure that we bring humor into politics and don't take ourselves too seriously. One of the great parts of the afternoon were the jokes told about John McCain. Everybody had them, and it made the event feel very human, not -- it wasn't people pontificating.

WHITFIELD: Yes, they were fun little messages from President Obama talking about, we're very different. I'm known to have the cool head, him, not so much. To even President Bush, finding humor in their relationship of how he was trying to take that moment of respite, and in comes John McCain, something about, are you relaxed? Just really shaking things up. So it's always fun and wonderful when people are eulogized in there. Those are beautiful, poignant stories and at the same time, everyone can laugh collectively. Douglas Brinkley -- go ahead.

BRINKLEY: I was just going to say, Joe Lieberman made a very funny aside about how when he stepped down from the Senate from Connecticut, McCain at first was angry, don't you dare step down, but then said, wait, you might spend time in Jerusalem and get a house there and maybe you'll have a spare bedroom with a balcony, and I think you are on the right thing. And how McCain kept asking, did you get the house yet, because McCain loved Jerusalem more than any other city. He loved the layers of history you'd be able to see from a balcony porch there.

WHITFIELD: Solemn, beautiful, and really very lovely to enjoy this funeral service. Douglas Brinkley, thank you so much.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. There's been a new development in the Russia investigation. The former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in that probe has publicly contradicted the attorney general's sworn testimony before congress. George Papadopoulos says Jeff Sessions seemed to support his idea that then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin meet during the 2016 campaign. Sessions told Congress under oath that he pushed back on that idea.

CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House for us. So, Sarah, this revelation came during a court filing late last night. What more can you tell us?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Fred. George Papadopoulos' legal team was making a sentencing request to a judge, trying to keep him out of jail as the court weighs what his fate will be now that he's pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. Papadopoulos' lawyers in that filing claiming that not only was then candidate Trump receptive to the idea of a meeting with Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign, but he then deferred to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was then a senator and a powerful surrogate for the campaign, and Sessions was open to the idea and said that the campaign should look into it. And obviously that stands in stark contrast to what he told Congress late last year when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. Take a listen to what he said then.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting. After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.


[14:30:08] WESTWOOD: Now, the department of justice is not commenting on this apparent contradiction. They're referring reporters back to a transcript of Jeff Sessions' testimony. Jeff Sessions is obviously in this feud with President Trump, this new development is coming against the backdrop of ongoing tensions between President Trump and his attorney general, so Sessions was already in a somewhat precarious position. But President Trump has said that he believes Sessions should stay in his position at least until after the midterm elections. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Sarah Westwood at the White House, thanks so much.

Still ahead, a funeral service fit for a queen. Family, friends, fans gathering to remember the life and legacy of the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.





[14:35:37] WHITFIELD: Powerhouse Jennifer Hudson singing "Amazing Grace" at the funeral of the legendry Aretha Franklin. That's the same tune and title of Franklin's double platinum album which helped to ascend the queen of soul into a rather untouchable musical stratosphere. The star-studded sendoff for Franklin yesterday in her hometown of Detroit was meaningful in message and music.


WHITFIELD: Homegoing fit for a queen, queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. Gospel praise from Detroit's Grammy winning Clark Sisters, to an Aretha classic performed by pop princess Ariana Grande. (SINGING)

WHITFIELD: Two weeks after her passing of pancreatic cancer, the 76- year-old in a gold-plated casket was celebrated as an artist, friend, icon, and inspiration.

SMOKEY ROBINSON, MUSICIAN: I've been watching the celebration of your life from everywhere. The world is going to miss you, and I know that I'm going to miss you so much because I miss our talks. It's really going to be different without you.

WHITFIELD: Love and respect from the highest notes, the highest elected public office.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We started out as, like, Aretha groupies.

WHITFIELD: Former President Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON: She lived with courage, not without fear, but overcoming her fears.


BILL CLINTON: She lived with faith, not without failure but overcoming her failures. She lived with power, not without weakness but overcoming her weaknesses. I just loved her.

WHITFIELD: From former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: She was always ours. There has never been, there will never be another voice melded to the consummate artistry that was Ms. Aretha Franklin.

WHITFIELD: Never considering herself political, she was a favorite inauguration fixture to three presidents spanning 30 years. As a young woman, she lent her artistry to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s cause, later tearfully singing at his funeral.

A recipient of the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, her song "Respect" considered an anthem of the civil rights movement and women's advocacy.

At her Detroit service in the Greater Grace Temple, power voices, Chaka Khan and Jennifer Hudson, and sentiments from the youngest members of the Franklin family, awe struck and grateful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a kid, I couldn't understand what it was like to be Aretha Franklin's granddaughter. I didn't know what that meant, but now I know what it feels like, that I have that running through my blood and that she's a part of who I am.

CRISTAL FRANKLIN, NIECE: I want to thank everyone who bought her album, who bought a concert ticket. I want to thank everyone who ever took a picture of my aunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You show the world God's love, and there's nothing more honorable.

WHITFIELD: In this nearly eight-hour farewell, fans and friends remembering and rejoicing the heart of Detroit and the soul of a nation.

CLIVE DAVIS, CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER, SONY MUSIC: Aretha's voice will be heard. Aretha's voice will be impacting. Aretha's voice will be influencing others, literally, for centuries to come.


WHITFIELD: And you could feel that love both inside and outside of that church. It was a beautiful service and sendoff for the queen of soul. And at Aretha Franklin's final resting place, she joins a long list of legends buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit. That's where civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Motown singer Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, David Ruffin of the Temptations are buried also there.

[14:40:07] Aretha Franklin's sisters, Erma and Carolyn Franklin, her brother Cecil, along with their father, Reverend C.L. Franklin. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has earned countless titles and accolades during her groundbreaking legal career, and that includes professor, litigator, role model, dissenter.

[14:45:05] Now the new CNN original film "RBG" takes an intimate look at Justice Ginsburg's life, including her recent rise to pop culture icon status.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just the thought that I might catch a glimpse of her is overwhelming. I have a mug of her in my room. It says, herstory in the making.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have her sticker on my computer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just ordered tons of merch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's easy to take for granted the position that young women can have in today's society, and that's a lot thanks to Justice Ginsburg's work.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is more disdained or told to go away than an older woman, but here's an older woman who people really want to hear everything that she has to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: Wow, powerful words. Very insightful from these young ladies. So Irin Carmon is with us now, coauthor of "Notorious RBG, The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg." Good to see you.

IRIN CARMON: Hi, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Let's start with the notorious RBG. Who came up with that moniker? Where'd that come from? What's the genesis of that?

CARMON: So my coauthor was in her second year of law school, Shana Knizhnik, was outraged at the decision in the voting rights case, actually. It was a week in which Justice Ginsburg broke the record request her dissents from the bench. She's got a special collar which you see in the documentary that she uses when she's truly furious. And Shana was so inspired by how she used her voice to righteously that she decided to create this pun, this tribute to Justice Ginsburg, and we teamed up to tell her story in the book as well.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. So now you've got this book. You hear from these young ladies who talk about how they really idolize her. There are even t-shirts, and there are RBG memes, there are tote bags, even tattoos. So this has gone big. And I wonder, for the justice, what does she think about this? Does she think this flash in the pan, does she think this is unusual, strange, or is she embracing it, saying, looking at the breadth of my life and career, I get it?

CARMON: I had an opportunity to interview the justice, and I showed her on an iPad a picture of one of these tattoos. And when I give speeches around the country about her life. I like to show the photo of her face, because she just has this Jewish grandma face where she can't believe that people will want to get her face tattooed. I've now seen about a half dozen tattoos. I think she thinks it's funny. At one point she was talking about how, as a justice, she has to come to consensus with other Supreme Court justices, and the interviewer said, so, you're not the queen? And she said, no, I'd rather be notorious.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's good.

CARMON: She goes for it.

WHITFIELD: Usually, the justices are known to be very low key. And she is still to a degree, but at the same time, when you hear her candor, when she's on speaking circuits, she is not -- maybe she revels, in fact, in completely speaking her mind and departing, really, just from I guess the legal framework or structure of thinking. But she has a jab or two every now and then.

CARMON: Well, look, I think that there's a paradox here, because as much as we called her the notorious RBG, it took until the age of 80 that she really became that kind of outspoken person. She always was a champion for women's rights, but she was known for kind of working behind the scenes and not drawing attention to herself, and she takes the work of the court extremely seriously.

But I think she really felt like we were at a crisis point when it came to the Supreme Court in her view taking a grievous wrong direction. And so all of this about her life, which is genuinely inspiring, all of the memes, it all tells one story, which is that we really have to pay attention to what the Supreme Court is doing and how much it affects all of our lives and whether we're getting into there from a meme or from listening to a decision. I think she really wants to draw everybody into that work of the court.

WHITFIELD: Irin Carmon, thank you so much. I appreciate it. We're all going to be enjoying "RBG." It premiers Monday, Labor Day, at 9:00 p.m. eastern and Pacific right here on CNN. And we'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have what's called a severely profound hearing loss. I probably hear about 25 percent of what's going on. With my hearing aids, I can hear 50 percent to 75 percent.

My mom wanted me to do speech therapy. She figured later in life I could communicate in sign language. I went to a deaf university. Sign language was such a struggle. I have a lot of listening experience in music. I know a lot of these lyrics. Let me just add all the vocabulary words to all these songs and see if I can keep up. The more songs I learned, the more vocabulary I learned.

I wanted to make this a job. I wanted to make this my life. DEAFinitely Dope was just something that was made more to break barriers between the hearing and deaf community. We're bringing music to them. It's just bringing it in a way that's more visually stimulating. We first started out volunteering, going to different schools. We did ASL music camp, motivational speaking, interpreting for performances. I was interpreting for D.R.A.M., Chance the rapper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're trying to paint a picture for you, and sign language is a way to bring that picture to life.


WHITFIELD: A touching goodbye to Senator John McCain in Washington today. Friends, colleagues, and family paying tribute, and moments ago, this tribute from the senator's wife, Cindy McCain, saying, today we lost our hero, our friend, our mentor, our father, our grandfather, and our husband. Together, we mourn and together we go on.

John McCain was also mourned by his 106-year-old mother who watched from the cathedral steps as her son's body was taken away following the service. Our Randi Kaye looks back at the remarkable life of a remarkable woman, Roberta McCain.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At 106, you might say Roberta McCain is the original maverick. With her husband, a Navy admiral, gone for long periods at sea, Roberta raised her son and his two siblings largely on her own.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Roberta McCain gave us her love of life, her deep interest in the world, her strength, and her belief that we're all men to use our opportunities to make ourselves useful to our country. I wouldn't be here tonight but for the strength of her character.

KAYE: The two were very close. To Roberta, he was simply Johnny.

ROBERTA MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S MOTHER: He was just one of those nice children that people like to have around. The neighbors liked him. Everybody liked Johnny.

KAYE: Roberta McCain was born in 1912 when William Howard Taft was president, and her independent streak kicked in early in life. She was just 19 when she met her future husband, a sailor on the USS Oklahoma. Roberta's mother banished him from their home because she didn't want her daughter to marry a sailor. So what did Roberta do?

ROBERTA MCCAIN: We loped. It was a real love affair. It really was.

KAYE: Roberta created what her son later called a mobile classroom, often taking her children on road trips as part of their education. As Senator McCain shared in his memoir, they went to museums, art galleries, and natural wonders of the world. Later, Roberta and her identical twin sister spent years seeking adventure around the globe. She reportedly once rode through the Jordanian desert in the dark of night. At one point, when Roberta was in her 90s, she flew France where they told her she was too old to rent a car. She had an answer for that.

ROBERTA MCCAIN: They wouldn't rent me a car, so I bought a Peugeot.

KAYE: When her trip was over, she shipped that car to the U.S. and reportedly drove it out west. And if there's any truth to the stories her son told about her on the campaign trail, she probably got there pretty fast. Senator McCain liked to tell the story of his mother being pulled over for going 112 miles per hour.

It is no secret she's a force to be reckoned with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I've got to say is if Ms. Roberta had been the McCain captured by the North Vietnamese, they would have surrendered.


KAYE: Her strength helped her navigate one of the toughest periods of her life.

ROBERTA MCCAIN: A friend of ours said, Roberta, two planes were shot down and we didn't see any ejections. And when we camera home, Tom Moore, who was chief of naval operations called, and he said, we're sure that Johnny's gone.

KAYE: And when she heard that her son had been taken as a prisoner of war -- ROBERTA MCCAIN: Can you believe that that's the best news I ever had

in my life? See, it depends on where you're standing, how things affect you.

ROBERTA MCCAIN: Years later, when Senator McCain ran for president, Roberta joined him on the campaign trail. At her age, she always imagined her son would outlive her, but instead, this week, she's burying him, a pillar of strength once again for the McCain family.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: Incredible.

All right, join CNN tonight as we remember the life and legacy of John McCain in a special documentary, "John McCain, For Whom the Bell Tolls," tonight 9:00 eastern right here on CNN.

Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more news straight ahead with Ana Cabrera.