A Teacher Provided the Spark for John McCain’s Mentoring Legacy

senator-john-mccain-2016-candidate-arizonaThe Peer Resources’ Mentor Hall of Fame has more than 20,000 examples of mentoring relationships. As a way to honor the legacy of Senator John McCain, here’s a story from the Hall of Fame about this American hero’s involvement in mentoring.

Panama Canal-born American John McCain (1936–2018), a member of the US Congress since 1982; a 1958 graduate of the US Naval Academy, a pilot who was captured and imprisoned in 1967 during the American War in Vietnam, and former two-time candidate for President of the United States, identified his high school teacher and former soldier, William Ravenel (1914–1968), as a mentor who changed his life; and Texas Senator John Tower (1925–1991), as a mentor he thought of as a “father to me in many respects” during the time Lt. Commander McCain served in Washington, D.C. as a Naval attache.

“When I was at a boy’s boarding school, Mr. Ravenel gave me some moorings and a compass,” Senator McCain stated on Harvard’s “Who Mentored You?” website. Not only did his teacher make “Shakespeare come alive,” for the Senator, but he was also someone “whom I confided my reservations about my destiny.”

Another student at the school described Mr. Ravenel as “a leader of men,” who “used a sense of humor instead of force.” The fellow student noted that the “effort Ravenel expended on McCain was profound: He tried to make McCain become a better person.” (Source: Alexander, P. (2002). Man of the people: The life of John McCain. New York, Wiley.)

Senator McCain described an example of his mentor’s efforts. A situation occurred where John McCain had to take difficult stance with regards to the actions of another student. When the situation ended, his mentor shook his hand and told him how proud he was of what he had said to his peers.

“I have never forgotten the confidence his praise gave me,” Senator McCain said. That memory served him well during his years as a prisoner of war as he was faced on a daily basis with maintaining honorable behavior. “I think that a mentor can help you through difficult periods, help you see the difference between right and wrong. The world is more complicated for children today than it ever was when I was growing up. A mentor can provide you with the kind of idealism that you can look up to and attempt to emulate. What I believe young people find very useful is someone that they can contact and interact with, and frankly express their doubts and their concerns and their questions. We have found through scientific study that a mentor can dramatically impact a young person’s life. I knew that Mr. Ravenel had a great impact on me. But I don’t think I really understood how deeply he impacted me until I was in prison, because it was his example I looked to when I was tempted to do something which was less than honorable.”(Source: McCain, J. & Salter, M. (1999). Faith of my fathers. New York: Random House.)

After Senator McCain died in August 2018, several politicians came forward to acknowledge his mentoring, including Minnesota Senator Amy Klobucher; South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; and Maine Senator Angus King.

CNN commentator Dana Bash reported on Senator McCain’s mentoring activities: “He spent a lot of time mentoring younger senators on both sides of the aisle including Delaware Senator Chris Coons; and Florida Senator Marco Rubio; and many others.”

Ms. Bash went on to report that Senator McCain “traveled extensively with them [those he mentored] all over the globe in order to spend time with them; in order for them to understand where he’s coming from; and to show them how it’s done.”

Maine Senator Susan Collins expressed a sentiment echoed by all he mentored: “I’ll miss how much fun he was, and how much I learned from him. He leaves a big hole in my heart.”

For additional stories or details about mentoring relationships from all walks of life, visit the Peer Resources’ Mentor Hall of Fame.