A steady stream of mourners, of all ages and political persuasions, lined up outside the Arizona State Capitol in the midday 104-degree heat to pay their respects to Sen. John McCain.
Among them was John Goodie, a former Mesa High School security guard and football coach, who arrived two hours early carrying an American flag to remember the man who once sought him out in the most unexpected of encounters.
Goodie, who lives in Gilbert, Arizona, met McCain in 1996 while working at Mesa High School. After speaking to the local Young Republicans inside, McCain insisted to his hosts that he needed to meet the school’s security guard.
A black car pulled up to Goodie’s post. McCain jumped out of the back seat, and asked him if he was “Big John Goodie.”
“He said I just want to thank you for your efforts on the Martin Luther King holiday,” Goodie recalled, noting that he helped lead the drive to honor King in Arizona. In 1983, McCain voted against legislation to make King’s birthday a federal holiday – a position he would later regret.
“Although we are on different sides of the political spectrum,” McCain told him, “I just wanted you to know that I admire your tireless efforts in getting the Martin Luther King holiday for the City of Mesa and the state of Arizona,” Goodie recalled.
The Arizona senator, who apparently knew of Goodie’s efforts from coverage of the Arizona MLK debate on television and the newspapers, talked to Goodie for a few minutes about his football career, then shook his hand and said “Keep up the good work.”
“He made it a point to stop by to holler at a $12-an-hour security guard,” said Goodie, who explained that he went on later to be one of Barack Obama’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention. “I was blown away. That is a priceless moment in my mind. That encounter is one that I will never forget. That fact that he sought me out. That was priceless to me.”
On the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death during the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain (and Hillary Clinton) made the pilgrimage to the Lorraine Motel where King was killed.
In Memphis, in April of 2008, McCain pointedly apologized for his 1983 vote: “We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing.”
The Arizona senator recalled that he had learned of King’s death while in his prison cell in North Vietnam.
McCain said he felt “just as everyone else did back home, only perhaps even more uncertain and alarmed for my country in the darkness that was then enclosed around me and my fellow captives. … The enemy had correctly calculated that the news from Memphis would deeply wound morale and leave us worried and afraid for our country.”
McCain had changed his position after studying King’s history and realizing that he was “a transcendent figure in American history” who deserved to be honored.
Reflecting on McCain’s legacy, Goodie said he most admired McCain’s “courageousness.”
“He was a brave man. He was a very respectable statesman,” Goodie said Wednesday as he made his way in line toward the entrance of the Arizona State Capitol where McCain is lying in state.
“He didn’t hold back. When he made mistakes, he apologized – like the Confederate flag and a number of other things,” Goodie said. “That takes a special individual. That’s something I hope the history books will record. … That’s bravery. Even though in his politics, he turned against his President, he kept his head up all the way to the end.”