The death of Senator John McCain is a watershed moment for the United States and especially for the national security community. To the countless obituaries that will be written for him I should like to add a personal anecdote.
Some three years ago, more than 200 members of New York’s Union League Club gathered at a black-tie dinner to present the Senator with the 150-year-old Club’s prestigious American Experience Award for his unique contribution to the nation. I played a small part in arranging the evening and joined his New York security detail to collect him from the airport and get him to the club in midtown-Manhattan.
While waiting for the Senator’s arrival from Washington DC, someone in his security detail suggested to me that it was McCain’s birthday. So when we arrived at the club, while the Senator went to his room to change into black-tie, I asked the club’s chef if he could prepare a last minute birthday cake with candles. The hurried plan was that after McCain’s speech, we’d dim the lights and club members would stand up and sing happy birthday. Always accommodating, the chef readily agreed, and I happily returned to escort the Senator to his table.
All went without a hitch.
After the Senator’s speech in which – by the way - he called for greater bi-partisanship to keep America great, the lights dimmed as an immaculately clad server carried the birthday cake to the McCain table. The audience rose and sang happy birthday to a bemused McCain, who soon let us know it wasn’t his birthday – much to my chagrin.
As guests departed I tried to remain invisible, and hid behind a potted plant or something. But the Senator spotted me, and unleashing his signature grin he came over and pulled me into the group as he told me not to worry. “By breakfast tomorrow,” he said, "no one will remember. And Sarwar,” he added, “I’ll have many more birthdays, so you may well get another chance.”
McCain was a great public servant, but how nice it is to also remember a more human side of the man.
Rest in Peace Senator!