November 1, 2008 / 1:23 PM / 10 years ago

Cindy McCain fits the role of first lady

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With her elegant clothes and perfectly coiffed blond hair, Cindy McCain looks the part of a U.S. first lady.

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain listens to his wife Cindy (L) at a campaign rally in Hanoverton, Ohio October 31, 2008. With her elegant clothes and perfectly coiffed blond hair, Cindy McCain looks the part of a U.S. first lady. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

She is also well prepared for the role.

Heiress to a fortune estimated at more than $100 million and chairwoman of one of the largest privately held companies in Arizona, McCain has traveled overseas extensively with different philanthropic organizations, visiting Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Angola, India, Vietnam and other countries.

She has dealt with U.S. government agencies, championed relief work through her charities and overseen the family business, gaining valuable experience that would serve her well as first lady if her husband, Republican John McCain, wins the presidential election on Tuesday.

“Despite the fact that she hasn’t been in Washington, D.C., all that much, her actual experience in foreign countries would be the greatest attribute to serve her well,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author and historian for the National First Ladies Library.

Anthony said McCain’s international experience as the medical charity’s founder and board member for a non-profit landmine removal group, will give her a boost at the White House.

“She’s had to deal with government agencies ... and I think in the process she has developed a certain level of diplomacy that I think is along the lines of what might be asked of her were she to be first lady,” Anthony said.

McCain, 54, has indicated she would continue her philanthropic work if her husband wins, although it is unclear what she would do with her role as chairwoman of the family business, Hensley & Co., one of the largest U.S. beer distributors.

FORMER RODEO QUEEN

McCain is a former rodeo queen and cheerleader who holds a master’s degree in special education from the University of Southern California.

Eighteen years younger than her husband, McCain has an independent streak. She never moved to Washington although her husband has been in Congress for most of their married life.

She likes to tell a story of how she came home from a trip to Bangladesh with a baby she planned to adopt. She only told her husband when she landed in the United States.

McCain also decided to learn to fly and even bought a plane before telling her husband.

It was only when they applied for their marriage license that the McCains realized they had both lied about their age when they met in 1979 — Cindy, then 24, said she was older and McCain, 41, a married father of three, said he was younger.

Cindy Lou Hensley and John McCain married in May 1980, five weeks after McCain divorced his first wife, Carol.

McCain has said she spends more time with her husband of 28 years during political campaigns than any other time — the opposite of what most political spouses would say.

While she has few rallies of her own, McCain is a regular fixture at her husband’s side. She stays away from talking about policy, preferring to stand behind him clapping and smiling on cue after she introduces her husband.

But she occasionally speaks strongly, saying in Tennessee recently that she thought Democrat Barack Obama had “waged the dirtiest campaign in American history.”

She has also attacked Obama by saying he did not support troops in Iraq, telling supporters “The day that Sen. Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body.”

In a dig at Obama’s wife, Michelle, who was criticized for being unpatriotic after she said she was proud of her country for the first time in her life, McCain said: “I’m proud of my country. I don’t know about you, if you heard those words earlier, but I’m very proud of my country.”

In 1994, Cindy McCain dissolved her medical charity after admitting she had been addicted to painkillers, some of which she had obtained from the charity’s doctor.

McCain has publicly acknowledged her drug addiction, which she at first kept secret from her husband and family.

She has also made a full recovery from a stroke that nearly killed her four years ago.

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