By Jennifer Rubin
Great artists (Aretha Franklin), scientists (Stephen Hawkings), authors (Tom Wolfe), business leaders (Paul Allen) and sports icons (Roger Bannister) passed away this year. There were the awful suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. But for me, the passing of three public figures, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., represents the greatest loss for the country.
I wrote about each of these at the time of their passing, but it’s worth reviewing the common themes of their lives and the way they endeared themselves to the American people.
Bush and McCain were military men, distinguished by their bravery and self-sacrifice. (Bush was the youngest Navy pilot, fresh out of school; McCain endured unimaginable torture.)
All three spent their lives in service to others and understood their power and influence weren’t for personal aggrandizement (Don’t brag, Barbara Bush reminded her children) but to be used to help the country and the world.
They weren’t complainers. McCain felt he was the luckiest man alive, despite injuries in captivity that afflicted him. Barbara uprooted family, moved to China and in and out of Washington, D.C. It wasn’t a burden but a great adventure. Bush was vilified by his party and lost the presidency, but he was not embittered.
They were all Republicans, but none was an unthinking partisan. They didn’t hate Democrats; Bush and McCain would take support from either side of the aisle to achieve their goals.
They were all devoted to children and grandchildren, setting a model of decency, honor, kindness and courage for them – and for the country. One could see them delight in the company of their extended families – McCain in the Arizona desert and the Bushes at Kennebunkport.
They lived vigorous lives, traveling and playing sports. Bush and McCain seemed incapable of being idle, whether in their public life or in private time.
They were all readers, Barbara devoting her time to literacy as first lady. They were interesting and interested in the world around them.
They were in many ways atypical Americans but typical of their generation, which if you want a label other than “Greatest Generation,” might be called the “It’s not about you” generation. The singular realization that happiness and success come not from self-indulgence but from service – what McCain called “the privilege of serving a cause greater than oneself” – was their North Star..
Their passing this year was cause for nostalgia and reflection, for commiseration about a different era in America. They should however be an inspiration – don’t whine, be curious, serve others and “It’s not all about you.” Now there’s a moral code to live by.
Jennifer Rubin writes the “Right Turn” blog for The Washington Post.