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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 02/09/2012

Roberta McCain celebrates 100th birthday

The McCain family -- from left: Jimmy, Meghan, Cindy, John, Bridget, Joe, Doug surround Roberta McCain on her 100th birthday. (Jeff Kida)
Who was the last person to leave Roberta McCain’s 100th birthday party? If you have to ask, you don’t know the irrepressible guest of honor very well.

“She left the party. . . reluctantly,” her older son, Sen. John McCain, told us Wednesday. “She had a lovely time. All of it was moving and very touching.”

About 100 guests — including most of her family, friends and fans such as Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, John Kyl, John Thune, Phil Gramm, John Warner and David Brooks — gathered Tuesday at the Capitol Hill Club (once the McCain family’s D.C. residence) for the private celebration of the matriarch’s centennial.

The party, organized by Cindy McCain, featured remarks from sons John and Joe, cake and a slideshow including photos of Roberta with Chiang Kai-shek, Lord Mountbatten and Bob Hope. “She’s had a remarkable life,” said the senator, who says he probably got the maverick gene from her.

America got to know his outspoken mother during McCain’s 2008 presidential race, when the 96-year-old frequently stole the show with her blunt remarks and sly humor. But that came after decades of adventures: She and twin sister Rowena, who died last year, were the daughters of a wealthy oil wildcatter; as a headstrong college girl, she eloped in 1933 with John “Jack” McCain Jr. and married at Caesar’s Bar in Tijuana, Mexico. (“My mother’s family viewed Navy men with disdain,” said the senator with a laugh.) She travelled the world as the wife of an admiral and developed a devoted circle of admirers here in Washington, where she became a renowned hostess when her husband was the Navy’s head of legislative affairs.

The McCain family (John, Roberta, Joe, and John S. McCain, Jr.) in 1951. (Family photo)
After he died in 1981, she continued her peripatetic life. “I bet there’s not a major church in Europe that she hasn’t visited,” said the senator. On the Daily Beast Tuesday, Meghan McCain wrote about the time her Nana was in Europe and was told she “was too old, at 90, to legally rent a car. So she bought one instead.” And let’s not even talk about all her speeding tickets.

A mild stroke recently impacted McCain’s left side but not her wanderlust. A few months ago, she called and said, “Johnny, I’m going to move to Turkey!” He talked her out of it but doesn’t win them all.

“We still, to this day, have spirited discussions about politics and policy,” he told us. “In some ways, I’m not conservative enough for her.”

By  |  05:00 AM ET, 02/09/2012

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