Special People

By

Leonard Zwelling

They have an aura about them.

I have met a few. These are the special ones, the ones who, for one reason or another, stand out among the rest of their peers as great performers or paragons of meaning.

When you meet one of these people, you are quite aware that you are in the presence of greatness. It could be a great singer or athlete. It might be a statesmen or a Nobel laureate.

Among those I have met are Paul Simon (quiet and reserved but deep), Aretha Franklin (very quiet), Marvin Gaye (a true gentleman), Janis Joplin (shy), George H. W. Bush (a people person if there ever was one), Gertrude Elion (a hoot) and then there was John McCain.

It was in the summer of 2009 during the tail end of my year serving on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Senator McCain was a member of the committee. One of his staff needed some help with the biochemistry and pharmacology of follow-on biologics, generic versions of therapeutic biological proteins like Neupogen. These drugs were a major source of debate buried in the text of the Affordable Care Act. I was able to give the staffer a layman’s lesson in the chemistry of antibodies, proteins and polypeptides. He was grateful for the non-judgmental help so when I asked prior to the start of a committee meeting if I could shake his boss’s hand, he said sure.

Senator McCain was sitting alone at the hearing table and I walked over. He had attended a briefing at MD Anderson the week before. I went over and introduced myself and thanked him for coming to Anderson. He shook my hand and was his usual cordial self, but there was something more. There was such a gravitas about him. I knew I was in the presence of true greatness and perhaps it was unfortunate that just a year before the country had decided that his opponent should be president.

This was actually the second time I had seen the senator close up. Previously I saw him crossing Capitol Hill and stopping to greet tourists who recognized him. He was gracious to them as well.

John McCain was a great man because he knew who he was. He knew his relationship to his country and his colleagues and he exercised the best judgment he could when making key decisions, and often corrected himself when he realized he had made an error. Now, what politician does that any more?

I shall miss his sense of humor and sense of self. I shall miss his sense of duty and love of country. But mostly I shall miss his humanity and his understanding of what the Senate was, is and can be again.

John McCain was a great American. Among the greatest!

Leonard Zwelling