Carol McCain

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Carol McCain
Carol McCain 1986.jpg
McCain in November 1986
Born Carol Shepp
Pennsylvania, U.S.[1]
Occupation Model, manager, event planner
Known for Ex-wife of John McCain
Director of White House Visitors Office
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Alasdair E. Swanson (m. 1958; div. 1964)
John McCain (m. 1965; div. 1980)
Children 3

Carol Shepp McCain (born 1937 or 1938)[1][2] is a former model, director of the White House Visitors Office, and event planner. She was the first wife of United States Senator and two-time presidential candidate John McCain.

Early life and first marriage[edit]

Carol Shepp was born to Joseph, an insurance agent, and Mary Shepp in Pennsylvania.[3][1] Carol Shepp grew up in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.[4] She graduated from Lansdowne-Aldan High School in 1955, winning a scholarship award.[5]

Shepp attended Centenary Junior College for Women in Hackettstown, New Jersey, beginning in 1956.[5][4][6] There she majored in English.[3]

Five feet eight inches tall,[7] Shepp was a swimsuit and runway model for Jantzen swimwear in Philadelphia.[8][6] She also worked as a secretary.[3]

She first knew John McCain while he was attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis from 1954 to 1958.[9] In 1958 she married one of his midshipman classmates,[9][10] Alasdair E. Swanson, who had been a football and basketball star there.[11][12] She and her husband, who became a Navy pilot, had two children, Douglas (born 1959) and Andrew (born 1962),[13][14] and lived in Pensacola, Florida.[12] The couple divorced in June 1964, after she sued him for infidelity.[12]

Second marriage to John McCain[edit]

Marriage and family[edit]

Shepp met McCain again when he was stationed at the Naval Air Basic Training Command at Pensacola in 1964 and after her divorce from Swanson, they began dating.[8][9][6] He frequently took training flights from Florida up to Philadelphia to see her on weekends.[3]

On July 3, 1965, Shepp married McCain in Philadelphia.[15] The ceremony was held at the home of the family that owned the well-known Old Original Bookbinder's seafood restaurant in Philadelphia, one of whose members was a close friend of Shepp's from college.[3]

The following year, John McCain adopted her two children.[14] The McCains then had a daughter named Sidney in September 1966.[16]

Apart during Vietnam War[edit]

John McCain was shot down and badly injured over North Vietnam on October 26, 1967, beginning what would be five and a half years as a prisoner of war.[17] During his captivity, she raised their children by herself in Orange Park, Florida, with the assistance of friends and neighbors in the Navy-oriented community.[18] She sent frequent letters and packages to him,[18] few of which the North Vietnamese let through.[19] She became active in the POW/MIA movement,[12] while those around her wore bracelets with her husband's name and capture date on them.[18]

While visiting family and friends in the Philadelphia area on Christmas Eve 1969, Carol McCain skidded and crashed into a telephone pole as she was navigating an icy, snowy, isolated portion of Pennsylvania Route 320 near Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania while driving alone.[3] She was thrown from her car into the snow, going into shock;[7] she thought she would never be seen and would die there.[3] Hours later she was found and taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital.[7] She had two smashed legs, a broken pelvis, broken arm, and a ruptured spleen.[3] She spent six months in the hospital and underwent 23 operations over the following two years in order to rebuild her legs with rods and pins as well as undergo extensive physical therapy.[6][20] During this time her daughter stayed with her parents in Landsdowne while her sons stayed with friends in Florida.[3]

She did not tell her husband about the accident in her letters, believing he already had enough to worry about.[7] The U.S. State Department contacted her surgeon the next day with a warning; as the doctor later said:

Businessman and POW advocate Ross Perot paid for Carol's medical care[21] and she remained grateful, later remarking: "The military families are in Ross's heart and in his soul...There are millions of us who are extremely grateful to Ross Perot".[22] Years after John found out about Perot's help, he said "we loved him for it".[23] Carol was interviewed on CBS Evening News in 1970 and said Christmas had no meaning for her without her husband but that she carried on with it for their children.[18]

Reuniting and divorce[edit]

The McCains were reunited upon his release from captivity on March 14, 1973.[24] She was now four inches (ten centimeters) shorter, in a wheelchair or on crutches, and substantially heavier than when he had last seen her;[6][21] he was also visibly hampered by his injuries and the mistreatment he had endured from the North Vietnamese.[25] The McCains became frequent guests of honor at dinners hosted by Governor of California Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy Reagan,[26] and the two couples became friendly.[2] Carol McCain was the Clay County director for Reagan's 1976 presidential campaign, as he sought the Republican Party nomination.[27] Her husband's assignments as executive officer, then commanding officer, of A-7 attack squadron VA-174 at NAS Cecil Field[28] saw the couple leading an active social life.[29] Such engagements included entertaining other naval personnel at their Orange Park home and Ponte Vedra beach house.[29]

The McCains' marriage began to falter due to his extramarital affairs.[30] John McCain's next assignment was to the Senate Liaison Office within the Navy's Office of Legislative Affairs.[31] The McCains separated briefly, then rejoined.[21] His job was aided by the social life the couple conducted, entertaining Navy, government, and other people three to four nights a week at their Alexandria, Virginia home.[32] During this time she worked for Congressman John H. Rousselot.[33] By 1979, the McCains were still living together.[21]

In April 1979, John McCain began a relationship with Cindy Lou Hensley, an Arizona special education teacher and Hensley & Co. heiress.[21] John McCain pushed to end the marriage, and friends described Carol as being in shock.[21] The McCains stopped cohabiting in January 1980; he filed for divorce in February 1980,[12] which she accepted.[21] When asked by a friend what had gone wrong, she said, "It's just one of those things."[21] The uncontested divorce became official in Fort Walton Beach on April 2, 1980.[34]

John McCain would later say:

Carol McCain later said:

McCain's biographer Robert Timberg believes that "Vietnam did play a part, perhaps not the major part, but more than a walk-on."[35] John put it this way: "I had changed, she had changed ... People who have been apart that much change."[35] Ross Perot later said, "After he came home, he walked with a limp, she [Carol McCain] walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona [Cindy McCain, his current wife] and the rest is history."[23] Carol’s three children were initially upset with John McCain about the divorce, but later reconciled.[21]

Amicable relations[edit]

The divorce settlement afforded Carol McCain full custody of their three children, alimony, child support, including college tuition, houses in Virginia and Florida, and lifelong financial support for her continuing medical treatment from the car accident.[6] John McCain and Hensley were married on May 17, 1980.[30] Carol McCain was sued by Roberta McCain, John's mother, in 1980 for return of personal property; the suit was settled out of court in 1981.[36]

Despite the divorce, Carol McCain has remained on good terms with John McCain[30] and has supported him in all his subsequent political campaigns. She refused to discuss her marriage with an election opponent of McCain's in 1982 who was seeking negative information about him, telling the opponent that "a gentleman never would have called".[37] She supported his 2008 presidential campaign. Carol McCain said of her former husband: “He’s a good guy. We are still good friends. He is the best man for president."[38]

Subsequent career[edit]

Reagan campaign and administration[edit]

Carol McCain moved to La Mesa, California, where she lived for several months with the family of top Reagan associate Edwin Meese.[12] She became a personal assistant to Nancy Reagan in fall 1979, working with her as a press assistant on Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign,[6] and then worked on the 1980 Republican National Convention.[2] She was director of the 1981 Reagan inaugural ball,[33] and as the Reagan administration began, she handled scheduling for the First Lady and the Reagan children.[33]

In 1981 she became Director of the White House Visitors Office.[2] There she planned tours and dealt with the pleas of different groups for the limited slots available.[2] She also dealt with demands from Washington officials, including a dispute regarding tour slots between Nancy Reagan and New York Congressman Thomas Downey.[39] About the pressures of her job, she said cheerfully: "I'm always in tears, but I love the job. I'm really having a ball."[2] During the early 1980s recession, she declared that the White House tours were fully booked even when other Washington attractions saw declining attendance; her office processed well over one million visits a year.[40] She was a well-liked presence on the Washington social scene.[41]

Between 1981 and 1986, she greatly expanded the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, adding participatory activities and doubling the size of the crowds attending.[33] The Washington Post likened her "extravaganza-loving" event style to that of Cecil B. DeMille.[33] She was also involved in planning South Lawn State Arrival Ceremonies,[2] as well as a national Christmas celebration.[42]

Private sector[edit]

She left the White House Visitors Office position in January 1987 to join Philadelphia-based We the People 200, Inc., which was the organization planning the celebration for the 200th anniversary of the United States Constitution that year.[33][43] She was named programming director, part of We the People 200's senior management team.[43] The bicentennial project was already troubled by lack of corporate financial sponsorship and persistent internal conflicts; the high salaries of McCain and other senior staff came under some criticism, but were defended by the organization's president as justified based upon age and experience.[44]

By 1990, she was a spokesperson for Washington, Inc., a large event planning company.[45] During 1991, she was a spokesperson for the Desert Storm Homecoming Foundation, which held a $12 million victory celebration and memorial in Washington in June 1991 following the conclusion of the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm.[46][47] She later worked in press relations for the National Soft Drink Association in Washington.[12][37]

In 2003, Carol McCain retired and moved to a bungalow in Virginia Beach.[12] She did not marry again, but she did have several relationships.[6][3]


  1. ^ a b c "United States Census, 1940; ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89MT-LWKW —". Retrieved July 23, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gamarekian, Barbara (August 30, 1981). "White House Tour Leader Courted and Criticized". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rosenberg, Amy S. (September 15, 2008). "McCain's Phila. Story". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. A01, A04. Retrieved October 1, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Frosh Party Planned by Alumnae". Delaware County Daily Times. September 4, 1956. p. 4. Retrieved October 1, 2017 – via 
  5. ^ a b "Scholarships, Awards Given at Landsdowne". Delaware County Daily Times. June 13, 1955. p. 9. Retrieved October 1, 2017 – via 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Farhi, Paul (October 6, 2008). "The Separate Peace of John And Carol". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c d Timberg, An American Odyssey, pp. 100–101.
  8. ^ a b Timberg, Robert (1999). John McCain: An American Odyssey. Touchstone Books. ISBN 0-684-86794-X.  pp. 68–69.
  9. ^ a b c Alexander, Paul (2002). Man of the People: The Life of John McCain. John Wiley & Sons. p. 32. ISBN 0-471-22829-X. 
  10. ^ Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick (2000). John McCain: Serving His Country. Millbrook Press. ISBN 0-7613-1974-3.  pp. 16, 18.
  11. ^ Leahy, Michael (August 31, 2008). "A Turbulent Youth Under a Strong Father's Shadow". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 8, 2008. 
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  13. ^ "The John McCain Story: Timeline". McCain 2000, Inc. Archived from the original on March 1, 2000. 
  14. ^ a b Timberg, An American Odyssey, p. 70.
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  16. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (December 27, 2007). "Bridging 4 Decades, a Large, Close-Knit Brood". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2007. 
  17. ^ Nowicki, Dan & Muller, Bill (March 1, 2007). "John McCain Report: Prisoner of War". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved November 10, 2007. 
  18. ^ a b c d Leary, Alex (July 20, 2008). "John McCain: From Orange Park to White House?". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved July 21, 2008. 
  19. ^ McCain, John; Mark Salter (1999). Faith of My Fathers. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50191-6.  p. 279.
  20. ^ Nowicki, Dan and Muller, Bill (March 1, 2007). "John McCain Report: Back in the USA". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved November 10, 2007. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kristof, Nicholas (February 27, 2000). "P.O.W. to Power Broker, A Chapter Most Telling". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  22. ^ Townley, Alvin (2006). Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influence of America's Eagle Scouts. Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 0-312-36653-1.  p. 97.
  23. ^ a b Alter, Jonathan (January 16, 2008). "When Ross Perot Calls..." Newsweek. Archived from the original on June 10, 2008. Retrieved June 15, 2008.  By the time Perot's statement was made, Perot had run into severe conflict with John McCain over the Vietnam POW/MIA live prisoners issue.
  24. ^ Sterba, James P (March 15, 1973). "P.O.W. Commander Among 108 Freed" (PDF). The New York Times. 
  25. ^ Timberg, An American Odyssey, p. 112.
  26. ^ Timberg, An American Odyssey, pp. 119–122.
  27. ^ Kerr, Jessie Lynne (October 25, 2008). "The McCain Connection: His family moved to Orange Park in 1966; The following years profoundly shaped the presidential candidate's future". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved October 25, 2008. 
  28. ^ Vartabedian, Ralph (April 14, 2008). "McCain has long relied on his grit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 24, 2008. 
  29. ^ a b Helman, Scott (August 31, 2008). "Taking command - The McCain way". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 2, 2008. 
  30. ^ a b c d e Nowicki, Dan and Muller, Bill (March 1, 2007). "John McCain Report: Arizona, the early years". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved November 21, 2007. 
  31. ^ Timberg, An American Odyssey, pp. 126–128.
  32. ^ Alexander, Man of the People, pp. 89–90.
  33. ^ a b c d e f Radcliffe, Donnie (December 30, 1986). "Christmas Card Presidents". The Washington Post. 
  34. ^ Alexander, Man of the People, p. 92.
  35. ^ a b Timberg, An American Odyssey, pp. 124–125.
  36. ^ Barakat, Matthew (August 16, 2008). "McCain and his mother don't recall old lawsuits". Associated Press. Retrieved August 22, 2008. [dead link]
  37. ^ a b Romano, Lois (March 2, 2000). "Out of the Fire, Politics Calls; Ex-POW Turns Washington Insider". The Washington Post. 
  38. ^
  39. ^ Weisman, Steven R (June 20, 1981). "Truce, Of Sorts, On White House Tours". The New York Times. 
  40. ^ "White House Remains Ever Popular". The New York Times. September 2, 1982. 
  41. ^ Kantor, Jodi; Halbfinger, David M. (October 17, 2008). "Behind McCain, Outsider in Capital Wanting Back In". The New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2008. 
  42. ^ Naedele, Walter F (November 18, 1986). "O'Neill is Weighing an Invitation For Post as Bicentennial Spokesman". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  43. ^ a b Naedele, Walter F (February 19, 1987). "Bicentennial Group Adds, Loses Staff". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  44. ^ Flander, Scott (February 27, 1987). "Painting the Town with Red Ink: Inadequate Funding, Internal Conflict Crippling Fete". Philadelphia Daily News. 
  45. ^ Rogers, Patricia Dane (December 6, 1990). "Entertaining: Setting a Simpler Tone In Uncertain Times". The Washington Post. 
  46. ^ Pressley, Sue Ann (June 6, 1991). "Desert Storm Celebration Is Also a Parade of Tears; Day Will Be Painful for Families of War Dead". The Washington Post. 
  47. ^ Jordan, Mary (June 7, 1991). "Victory Party Storms Into Town;Military Invades Mall for Extravaganza Now Priced at $12 Million". The Washington Post.