'Follow his example': Barack Obama remembers John McCain in touching eulogy

The former president remembered the late senator not as his political opponent, but as his friend.
Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama put his friendship with Sen. John McCain at the forefront of his tribute at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.AP
/ Source: TODAY

America came together Saturday to remember the late Sen. John McCain, a war hero, beloved father and proud statesman.

Politicians of all stripes gathered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to McCain, who died Aug. 25 at age 81 after battling brain cancer. Former President Barack Obama, the Democrat who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, was among those the late senator chose to speak.

“When John called me with that request earlier this year, I’ll admit sadness and also a certain surprise,” Obama recalled to those in the cathedral pews.

“It showed John’s disdain for self-pity. He’d been through hell and back, and yet somehow never lost his energy, his optimism or his zest for life. ... He maintained that buoyant spirit until the very end.”

Obama revealed his close relationship with his colleague and the sincere friendship the two men shared.

“During my presidency, John would come over to the White House, and we’d just sit and talk in the Oval Office just the two of us,” he said. “We laughed with each other and we learned form each other and we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism. When all was said and done, we were on the same team.”

Even before Obama’s presidential victory, McCain backed his political opponent’s integrity along the campaign trail.

“John pushed back against supporters who challenged my patriotism during the 2008 presidential campaign,” Obama said. “It was John’s instinct. I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race, their religion or their gender. ... He saw himself as defending America’s character, not just mine.”

The former president exalted McCain’s service to this country as a poignant example of all that is best in America.

“To know John was to know that as quick as his passions might flare, he was just as quick to forgive and to ask for forgiveness,” said Obama. “He knew how to laugh at himself and that self-awareness made him all the more compelling.”

Obama’s tribute followed a speech by former President George W. Bush, who won the GOP nomination over McCain in the 2000 presidential race, as well as a powerful eulogy delivered by the McCain's daughter, Meghan.

In closing, Obama vowed to uphold McCain's legacy by "striving to do better, to be better."

"What better way to honor John McCain’s life of service than as best we can," he said. "Follow his example."