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Cindy McCain
Cindy McCain, U.S. Permanent Representative.jpg
12th United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture
Assumed office
November 5, 2021
President Joe Biden
Preceded by Kip E. Tom
Personal details
Cindy Lou Hensley

(1954-05-20) May 20, 1954 (age 69)
Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
Political party Republican
(m. 1980; died 2018)
Children 4, including Meghan
Relatives Jim Hensley (father)
Education University of Southern California (BA, MA)

Cindy Lou McCain (née Hensley; born May 20, 1954) is an American diplomat, businesswoman, and humanitarian. McCain has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture since November 5, 2021. She is the widow of U.S. Senator John McCain from Arizona, who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

McCain was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, as the daughter of wealthy beer distributor Jim Hensley. After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Southern California, she became a special education teacher. She married John McCain in 1980, and the couple moved to Arizona in 1981, where her husband was elected to the United States Congress the following year and reelected five more times. The couple had three children together, in addition to adopting another. From 1988 to 1995, she founded and operated a nonprofit organization, the American Voluntary Medical Team, which organized trips by medical personnel to disaster-stricken or war-torn third-world areas.

Upon her father's death in 2000, she inherited majority control and became chair of Hensley & Co., one of the largest Anheuser-Busch beer distributors in the United States. She participated in both of her husband's presidential campaigns and, in 2008, drew both positive and negative scrutiny for her appearance, demeanor, wealth, spending habits, and financial obligations. She continues to be an active philanthropist and serves on the boards of Operation Smile, Eastern Congo Initiative, CARE, and HALO Trust, frequently making overseas trips in conjunction with their activities.

McCain has remained visible in public life since then. She made a cross-party endorsement of Joe Biden in the 2020 United States presidential election. Nominated by President Biden in June 2021, and confirmed by the Senate in late October, she currently serves as the United States ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

Early life and education

Cindy Lou Hensley was born in Phoenix, Arizona, to James Hensley, who founded Hensley & Co., and Marguerite "Smitty" Hensley (née Johnson). She was raised as the only child of her parents' second marriages and grew up on Phoenix's North Central Avenue in affluent circumstances. Dixie Lea Burd (d. 2008), daughter of Marguerite Smith through a prior relationship, was her half-sister, as was Kathleen Hensley Portalski (d. 2017), daughter of Jim Hensley and his first wife, Mary Jeanne Parks. Hensley was named Junior Rodeo Queen of Arizona in 1968. She went to Central High School in Phoenix, where she was named Best Dressed as a senior and graduated in 1972.

Hensley enrolled at the University of Southern California. She joined Kappa Alpha Theta sorority as a freshman, and had many leadership roles in the house during her four years there. Hensley graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in education in 1976. She continued on at USC, and received a Master of Arts degree in special education in 1978. There she participated in a movement therapy pilot program that laid the way for a standard treatment for children with severe disabilities; she published the work Movement Therapy: A Possible Approach in 1978. Declining a role in the family business, she worked for a year as a special education teacher of children with Down syndrome and other disabilities at Agua Fria High School in Avondale, Arizona.

Marriage and family

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Greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1983

Hensley met John McCain in April 1979 at a military reception in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the U.S. Navy liaison officer to the United States Senate, and was accompanying a group of senators heading for China. She was in Hawaii on a family vacation with her parents. Hensley was talking to Jill Biden, the wife of Senator Joe Biden, who suggested that she talk to McCain; her father made the introduction. He was almost 18 years her senior; by her later description, each fudged the age they said they were to the other: "He made himself younger, and I made myself older, of course."

He had been married to Carol McCain for 14 years and they had three children (two of whom he adopted from her first marriage). McCain and Hensley quickly began a relationship, traveling between Arizona and Washington to see each other. John McCain then pushed to end his marriage and the couple stopped cohabiting in January 1980, Carol McCain consented to a divorce in February 1980, it was finalized in April 1980.

Hensley and McCain were married on May 17, 1980, at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. They signed a prenuptial agreement that kept most of her family's assets under her name; they kept their finances apart and filed separate income tax returns.

Republican National Convention, September 1-4, 2008. Presidential candidate John McCain's family, wife Cindy in the middle in green outfit, St. Paul, Minnesota LCCN2010719276 (cropped1)
The full McCain family in 2008. In the front row are the children with Cindy: Meghan, Jimmy, Jack, and Bridget. In the back row are his children from John McCain's first marriage: Andrew, Douglas, and Sidney.

Her father's business and political contacts helped her new husband to gain a foothold in Arizona politics. She campaigned with her husband door to door during his successful first bid for U.S. Congress in 1982, and was heavily involved in campaign strategy. Her wealth from an expired trust from her parents provided significant loans to the campaign and helped it survive a period of early debt.

Once her husband was elected, the McCains moved to Alexandria, Virginia. She spent two months in late 1983 writing handwritten notes on over 4,000 Christmas cards to be sent to constituents and others. She was considered an outsider who was snubbed by the Washington congressional social scene, in part because Carol McCain was a popular figure in town, and she grew homesick for Arizona. She had several miscarriages.

She moved back to Arizona in early 1984 and gave birth to the couple's daughter Meghan later that year. She subsequently gave birth to sons John Sidney IV (known as "Jack") in 1986 and James (known as "Jimmy") in 1988. Their fourth child, Bridget, was adopted in 1991. McCain's parents lived across the street and helped her raise the children; her husband was frequently in Washington and she typically only saw him on weekends and holidays. In his absence, she organized elaborate fund-raisers for him and expanded their home.

In April 1986, McCain and her father invested $359,100 in a shopping center project with Phoenix banker Charles Keating. This, combined with her role as a bookkeeper who later had difficulty finding receipts for family trips on Keating's jet, caused complications for her husband during the Keating Five scandal, when he was being examined for his role regarding oversight of Keating's bank.

American Voluntary Medical Team

Founding and mission

In 1988, inspired by a vacation that she took four years earlier to substandard medical facilities on Truk Lagoon, McCain founded the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT). It was a non-profit organization that organized trips for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to provide MASH-like emergency medical care to disaster-struck or war-torn developing countries such as Micronesia, Vietnam (before relations were normalized between them and the U.S.), Kuwait (arriving five days after the conclusion of the Gulf War), Zaire (to help refugees from the Rwandan genocide), Iraq, Nicaragua, India, Bangladesh, and El Salvador. She led 55 of these missions over the next seven years, each of which were at least two weeks in duration. AVMT also supplied treatment to poor sick children around the world. In 1993, McCain and the AVMT were honored with an award from Food for the Hungry.


In 1991, the AVMT went to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to provide assistance following the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone. While at Mother Teresa's Dhaka orphanage, the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa Children's Home, McCain met two infant girls she felt needed to be brought to the United States for medical treatment. She decided to adopt one of the girls, later named Bridget, with her husband readily agreeing; the adoption became final in 1993. She helped coordinate the adoption of the other little girl for family friend Wes Gullett.


In 1995 McCain founded a new organization, the Hensley Family Foundation, which donates funds to children's programs nationally as well as in Arizona. She was largely a stay-at-home mom during the balance of the 1990s. She also held positions as vice president, director, and vice chair of Hensley & Co. In the mid-1990s, she began suffering from severe migraine headaches, for a while keeping them secret from her husband and minimizing their effect to the rest of her family. The condition frequently resulted in visits to an emergency room. Her attacks were caused by many different migraine triggers and she tried many different treatments.

Role in 2000 presidential campaign

Although wary of the media and still having no love for the political world, McCain was active in her husband's eventually unsuccessful campaign for President of the United States in 2000. She mostly provided good cheer, without discussing her opinions about national policy. She impressed Republican voters with her elegance at coffee shops and other small campaign settings, where she frequently referred to her children, carpooling and charity work.

McCain was upset by the notorious smear tactics against her husband in the South Carolina primary that year. These included allegations involving her adopted daughter Bridget that she found "despicable". Though deeply wounded by the attacks for a long time, McCain eventually forgave those responsible. She was chosen as the chair of the Arizona delegation to the 2000 Republican National Convention.

Between presidential campaigns

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Cindy and John McCain at a Naval Sea Cadet Corps graduation, Fort Dix, New Jersey, July 2001

In 2000, she became chair of the now $300 million-a-year Hensley & Co. following her father's death. It is one of the largest Anheuser-Busch beer distributors in the United States. Together, McCain, her children, and one of John McCain's children from his first marriage own 68 percent of the company. As chair, her role takes the form of consultations with the company CEO on major initiatives such as new products, new plants or employee welfare, rather than that of an active physical presence. She does not have operational control of Hensley, and Anheuser-Busch considers her to be an absentee owner. By 2007, she had an annual income of over $400,000 from Hensley and an estimated net worth of $100 million. She also owned at least $2.7 million worth of shares of Anheuser-Busch stock. With her children, she owns a minority stake in the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.

McCain became actively involved with Operation Smile in 2001, taking parts in its medical missions to Morocco, Vietnam and India. She was honored by the organization in 2005 and sits on its board of directors. McCain joined the board of directors of CARE in 2005. She is on the board of the HALO Trust, and has visited operations to remove landmines in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, and Angola. She makes financial contributions to these organizations via her family trust and views her role as watching them in the field to ensure they are frugal and their money is being spent effectively. On occasion she has criticized foreign regimes on human rights grounds, such as Myanmar's military junta.

In April 2004, McCain had a near-fatal stroke caused by high blood pressure, although she was still able to attend some events. After several months of physical therapy to overcome leg and arm limitations, she made a mostly full recovery, although she still had some short-term memory loss and difficulties in writing. She owns a home in Coronado, California, next to the Hotel del Coronado; her family had vacationed in Coronado growing up, and she has gone there for recuperation and family get-togethers. She or her family own other residential and commercial real estate in California, Arizona and Virginia and, including rental properties, McCain herself owns ten homes and part of three office complexes. She is an amateur pilot and race car driver.

Role in 2008 presidential campaign

Cindy at White House
Visiting President Bush at the White House on March 5, 2008

She was active and visible in her husband's second presidential campaign during 2007 and 2008, despite not wanting her husband to run initially due to bad memories of their 2000 experience and worries the effect on her children, especially son Jimmy who was headed to serve in the Iraq War. She eventually supported her husband in his goals, but defined her own campaign roles; she frequently returned to Arizona to attend to domestic duties or interrupted campaigning for her overseas charitable work. She preferred to travel with her husband and introduce him rather than act as a campaign surrogate with a separate schedule. She wore her hair in a fashionable but severe style and was sometimes seen with an unsmiling countenance in her appearances. In August 2008, a member of the public shook her hand very vigorously, aggravating her existing carpal tunnel syndrome condition and causing her to slightly sprain her wrist. The campaign exacerbated her migraine headaches and she sometimes had to wear dark glasses to shield herself from bright lights. The pressures of the campaign also brought out a range of behaviors between her and her husband, varying from moments of great tenderness and concern to raging arguments that dismayed their staffs.

McCain stated that the American public wanted a First Lady of the United States who would tend toward a traditional role in that position. She would not attend Cabinet meetings, but would continue her involvement in overseas non-profit organizations and would urge Americans to do the same globally or locally. She envisioned herself as a possible figurehead for humanitarian work, along the lines of Diana, Princess of Wales. She continued to expand her roles in such organizations, joining in April 2008 the board of Grateful Nation Montana, which provides scholarships and services to the children of Montana service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cindy McCain addresses the audience at the convention, St. Paul, Minnesota LCCN2010719277
Addressing the delegates on the final night of the 2008 Republican National Convention

She made statements critical of the Bush administration for not deploying enough troops during the Iraq War. Her close examination of the financial books of the McCain campaign during the first part of 2007 convinced the candidate that its profligate spending could not go on and led to the drastic mid-year reduction of the campaign's staff and scope. In February 2008, McCain made news by being critical of Michelle Obama, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who had said, "And let me tell you something: For the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country." McCain, who was genuinely offended by the remark, replied: "I am proud of my country. I don't know about you—if you heard those words earlier—I am very proud of my country." Also in February 2008, she publicly appeared beside her husband during a press conference in response to a newspaper report regarding his connection to a lobbyist.

McCain faced media scrutiny about her wealth, spending habits, and financial obligations. She initially declined to release her separate income tax returns, saying that it was a privacy issue and she would not release the returns even if she became First Lady She later released the first two pages of her 2006 return, which showed $6 million in income for that year (including nearly $570,000 in itemized deductions and more than $1.7 million paid in federal income taxes). The campaign said that any decisions about how to handle her role in Hensley & Co. if she became First Lady would not be made until that time. While she stood to gain a considerable profit from the agreed-upon acquisition of Anheuser-Busch by the Belgian company InBev, she was initially under some political pressure to help oppose the deal and keep Anheuser-Busch under American ownership.

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Six days before the general election loss, the McCains campaign together in Elyria, Ohio.

In June 2008, a Rasmussen Reports poll found that 49 percent of voters viewed McCain favorably and 29 percent unfavorably, while an ABC News/The Washington Post poll found figures of 39 percent and 25 percent respectively. Her style and fashion sense was the subject of much media scrutiny. McCain was compared to former first lady Nancy Reagan, due to both her style and wardrobe as well as her demeanor. Early in the campaign, some recipes attributed to McCain turned out to be copied from other sources; the campaign attributed the problem to an error by an intern.

McCain spoke on both the opening and final nights of the early September 2008 Republican National Convention. On the first night, truncated due to national attention regarding Hurricane Gustav, she appeared with First Lady Laura Bush to deliver short remarks encouraging support for hurricane relief efforts along the Gulf Coast, and on the last night, she introduced the seven McCain children and spoke about how her husband's love for his country had been passed on to them. In October 2008, she increased the intensity of her public remarks against Obama's candidacy, speaking with surprising vitriol in accusing the Obama campaign of being the dirtiest in history and saying of his position against a war-funding bill, "The day that Senator Obama cast a vote not to fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body." The stresses of the campaign caused the 5-foot-7-inch (1.70 m) McCain's weight to fall under 100 pounds (45 kg). On November 4, 2008, she fought back tears in an appearance as the McCain campaign reached its final day and subsequent loss to Obama.

Subsequent activities

After the election, McCain was approached about appearing on Dancing with the Stars. She seriously considered participating, but according to her husband, was concerned that her surgically replaced knee would not be able to withstand the rigors of the competition.

Continuing her humanitarian aid work with a January 2009 trip to Dubai, India, and Cambodia, she said that she was relieved that the campaign was over and that, while it had been "wild and nuts" at times, it had also been "a remarkable experience to be a contender for the highest office in the land." She said the ongoing global economic crisis was adversely affecting humanitarian organizations, and she expressed hope that President Obama would be successful in dealing with it.

Cindy McCain testifies to Congress on the Democratic Republic of Congo.
McCain testifying before Congress in March 2011

She expressed support for LGBT rights by appearing alongside her daughter Meghan at an April 2009 convention of the Log Cabin Republicans, and posing for the NOH8 Campaign, a gay rights project opposed to California Proposition 8, a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. The following year she appeared in another NOH8 public service announcement against bullying, and in it appeared to break with her husband's position and express support for repeal of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. However, she subsequently tweeted that "I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be a part of it. But I stand by my husband's stance on DADT."

Cindy McCain November 2013
McCain speaking at an event at The McCain Institute in November 2013

In September 2009, she spoke about her migraines publicly for the first time and decided to speak at the International Headache Congress about raising awareness for others with the condition. During her husband's eventually successful 2010 senatorial re-election campaign, she rarely made public appearances.

McCain appeared in March 2011 alongside Eastern Congo Initiative founder Ben Affleck to testify before a panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on behalf of continued monetary assistance to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in an environment where the Republican-controlled House was looking to make significant cuts to foreign aid. She has noted the difficulty of getting attention to some of the topics she feels most strongly about.

Husband's illness and death

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The John and Cindy McCain residence in Phoenix, Arizona

In July 2017, her husband was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor. She issued a public statement saying that, "We as a family will face the next hurdle together. One thing I do know is he is the toughest person I know. He is my hero and I love him with all my heart." Senator McCain underwent treatment, and after December 2017 no longer went to Washington, D.C., remaining in Arizona.

The severity of her husband's illness led to the possibility that he would not be able to finish his term in office and that the Governor of Arizona would have to appoint a successor until a special election could be held. There is a tradition in such situations for politically involved spouses to be named as replacements, a practice known as "widow's succession". The possibility became an issue in the 2018 Arizona gubernatorial election, where in the Republican primary contest incumbent governor Doug Ducey was trying to fend off a challenge from former Secretary of State of Arizona Ken Bennett. In May 2018, some media reports stated that Ducey was planning on naming McCain if the seat became vacant. To this, Bennett, who was seeking to capitalize on the dissatisfaction that some conservatives in the state had long had with the long-time senator, stated, "I promise I will not appoint Cindy McCain to US Senate as Gov of AZ." For his part, Ducey refused to publicly speak about the possibility.

Cindy McCain at Udall–McCain Grand Canyon tribute ceremony 2018
Accepting an award on her husband's behalf in April 2018 at Grand Canyon National Park

By 2018, McCain's net worth was estimated to be at least $200 million, with most of it still due to her share of Hensley & Co. In addition the couple owned properties in Phoenix, Sedona, the San Diego area, and in Virginia, although some properties were sold off in 2017.

McCain's attitude towards President Trump took another negative turn in February 2018, following repeated public criticism by the chief executive of her husband's nay vote that had doomed the so-called "Skinny repeal" effort to dismantle Obamacare. McCain said: "I think the president fails to understand this, but more importantly, in my own – from my own feeling, we need more compassion, we need more empathy, we need more togetherness in terms of working together. We don't need more bullying, and I'm tired of it." In July 2018 McCain issued a public statement one year after her husband's initial prognosis, saying that "Though this diagnosis has brought many challenges, our hearts are nevertheless filled with gratitude" towards caregivers, colleagues, and friends.

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McCain mourns over her husband's casket as he lies in state at the Arizona State Capitol.

John McCain died at age 81 on August 25, 2018. She was present at, and later expressed gratitude for, the elaborate services for her husband, which involved lying in state in the rotunda at the Arizona State Capitol, a service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church, lying in state in the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington, a service at the Washington National Cathedral, and finally burial at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery.

Once it became time, McCain reportedly indicated that she was not interested in being appointed to her husband's Senate seat, as personal participation in electoral politics did not appeal to her. As one former aide stated, "It is a mistake to understand the McCains as a political family. They're a military family first and a political family second." Nonetheless, she still wielded some influence in terms of who would be picked. On September 4, Ducey – who had by this time easily won the Republican gubernatorial primary – appointed former Arizona senator Jon Kyl to the seat, in a choice that was satisfactory to all factions within the state Republican party. McCain referred to Kyl as "a dear friend of mine and John's. It's a great tribute to John that he is prepared to go back into public service to help the state of Arizona."

Later activities

Following her husband's death, McCain moved back to her childhood neighborhood. She became chair of the McCain Institute's board of trustees. She also joined the family's #ActsofCivility campaign, with the aim of encouraging people to interact with those they disagree with.

McCain Prize HISF 2019 (49112145602)
McCain giving a prize at the Halifax International Security Forum, 2019

She continued to be critical of the state of American politics. In September 2019, she declaimed the Republican Party as "excluding people for the wrong reasons" and said it was no longer "the party that my husband and I belonged to." In contrast, with the 2020 United States presidential election underway, she praised Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, saying that they were good friends to her and that "Joe has been a remarkable source of inspiration, kindness and just a shoulder throughout all of this." In June 2020, McCain stated that she would not endorse Donald Trump's re-election campaign. While not explicitly endorsing Biden at the time, McCain spoke in a video segment shown at the August 2020 Democratic National Convention about the friendship between her late husband and Biden. On September 22, McCain gave her full endorsement to Biden's presidential candidacy. McCain's endorsement, and the bad relationship between Trump and her late husband, has been given as one of a number of reasons why Biden was able to narrowly win the 2020 United States presidential election in Arizona. In doing so Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, and only the second since 1948, to do so.

McCain was a member of the advisory board of the Biden-Harris Transition Team, which was helping to plan for the presidential transition of Joe Biden, providing counsel on women's and children's issues. She was named to the board in September 2020, when the campaign was still underway. Nonetheless, she has said that she is still a registered Republican, intends to stay that way, and hopes that the Republican Party returns to stances that she can once again support.

In January 2021, McCain was censured by the Maricopa County Republican Party by a 4–1 margin in response to her support for Biden. In response, McCain tweeted that she would "continue to support candidates who put country over party and stand for the rule of law." Later that month, on a resolution that passed by a wide margin, McCain was censured by the Arizona Republican Party for her support of Biden and for "leftist causes such as gay marriage and growth of the administrative state". Making reference to the fact that the state party was in the habit of censuring other members deemed insufficiently conservative, including her husband several years prior, she replied, "It is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well ... and who, like my late husband John, have been censured by the AZGOP. I'll wear this as a badge of honor."

McCain's account of her life with, and final days of, John McCain was published in April 2021. Entitled Stronger: Courage, Hope, and Humor in My Life with John McCain and published by Crown Forum, it also contained material on the struggles she faced in her own life.

United States Ambassador

Ambassador McCain delivering the United States' opening remarks by Zoom at the Food and Agriculture Organization Council meeting, Rome, November 2021

McCain was seen by the Biden administration as a likely, or even a "must do", for an ambassadorship nomination. In late November 2020, the possible post of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom was mentioned in connection to her. She responded to the notion of any potential nomination by saying, "In whatever way he sees fit, I would be proud and honored to serve".

In late May 2021, it was reported that President Biden would nominate McCain to serve as the Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. The White House officially announced her nomination on June 23, 2021. On August 9, 2021, her nomination was sent to the United States Senate. On September 28, 2021, her confirmation hearing was held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; she faced largely friendly questions mixed in with personal reminiscences from the committee members regarding times spent with either McCain or her husband. The committee favorably reported her nomination on October 19, 2021. The full Senate confirmed her by voice vote on October 26, 2021. She was sworn in as ambassador on November 5, 2021. She presented her credentials to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization on January 18, 2022, to the International Fund for Agricultural Development on January 25, 2022, and to the U.N. World Food Programme on January 28, 2022.

Awards and honors

McCain was inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame in 2019.

McCain received the 2020 Heritage Award from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

She is the recipient of at least two honorary degrees.

See also

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