Cindy McCain stood on a knoll in Tempe, Arizona, last year and looked out over the Rio Salado.
The spot where she stood, on 26 acres, is where she and her ailing husband, Sen. John McCain, had discussed building a “gathering place” for his archives, hiking and perhaps candidate debates — but especially for listening — a simple trick that may just save politics from itself, Cindy says.
Cindy and the McCains are hoping that the library would serve as an inspiration of decorum in politics, where most lawmakers have seemed to gotten away from.
A year after McCain’s death from brain cancer, the library is one way his family members are fighting to shape how the world remembers the veteran senator.
It also includes videos and its own Twitter hashtag, #ActsofCivility, in which the McCains asks Americans to perform and post affirmative acts of listening to one another and agreeing to disagree.
The McCains and their allies have the senator’s story, told by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush at his funeral and preserved already in papers being collected by Arizona State University, which donated the land for the library.
They’ve also got plans and a determination to direct the storytelling.
“The only person that defines John McCain’s legacy is John McCain,” said his son Jack McCain.
John McCain, who wrote a book about the end of his life, planned his funeral and even wrote a post-mortem statement read by a longtime aide, showed his surviving friends and family how he wanted to be remembered and how he did not.
“John McCain did not define himself by any losses,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who commiserated with McCain after the two GOP presidential nominees lost to Obama in 2008 and 2012.[Sponsored] Controversial memory test for seniors sweeps the Internet
Like the library, McCain’s legacy is still somewhat aspirational. Upcoming books and other materials are likely to flesh it out. So will The McCain Institute, a nonprofit aimed at leadership development, human rights and combating human trafficking.
“He’s only been dead a year, and legacy is something that’s built over a great deal of time,” the senator’s son said in an interview. “I personally hope that his legacy is defined by his civility.”
In that year, McCain’s peers especially have given thought to what sticks with them and what it means.
Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who served in Vietnam while McCain was imprisoned and who worked under him and later with him, said McCain’s reconciliation with Vietnam helped Jones forgive his enemies of war.
“He had more reason than I did to carry a burning hatred for his captors for the rest of his life,” said Jones, who served in leadership positions under Republican and Democratic presidents while McCain was in the Senate. “When he essentially extended the hand of peace, that caused me to do the same thing. I got rid of my demons.”
For now, the McCains say they are still grappling with his absence. Cindy McCain said she is focused on her family and on the impending birth of a grandchild. But grief, she says, sometimes washes over her.
Jack McCain, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was in Afghanistan before and after his father’s death and insulated from much of the aftermath. He’s moved from active duty to the Navy Reserves and is home in Maryland now, with a 2-year-old son and his wife, Renee, trying to figure out what comes next.
“I’m attempting to find a way to reorder my life without the person who had been basically my role model, my leader, the person I turned to when I needed sound advice,” he said.
Running for public office, he said, is not part of the plan.
The Associated Press contributed to this article