Mark Salter, a speechwriter and longtime aide to the late Senator John McCain ’54, recently visited campus for an in-person discussion in Bryan Library with Jeremy Goldstein, executive director of the McCain-Ravenel Center
, and Head of School Charley Stillwell. Students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni tuned in virtually, but the backdrop of the School’s historic library was a beacon of hope for the future when campus once again will host outside speakers.
Salter co-authored seven books with McCain and discussed his most recent work, “The Luckiest Man: Life With John McCain,” reading excerpts and sharing anecdotes of McCain’s time at Episcopal. Most notably, he talked of his profound connection with longtime faculty member William B. Ravenel, a relationship honored in the McCain-Ravenel Center’s name.
The senator often spoke of his transformative relationship with Mr. Ravenel and the influence of the School’s Honor Code on his younger self. In one interview, he recounted: “I knew that Mr. Ravenel had a great impact on me, but I don’t think I really understood how deeply he impacted me until I was in prison. It was his example I looked to when I was tempted to do something which was less than honorable.”
In his book, Salter notes that McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam when Mr. Ravenel died, regretted that he did not see his mentor one last time before his death. “I would have liked to have asked him what quality he detected in me that remained undetected to others,” McCain told Episcopal classmates who hosted a fundraiser during McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. In McCain’s words, Ravenel helped him mature “from punk to person” after a childhood spent moving constantly with his father, an admiral in the Navy.
When asked about McCain’s vote against efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in 2017, Salter spoke of the intellectual and moral courage McCain displayed by going against his party and refusing to repeal the law before there was a replacement program ready. “The timing was poignant. He had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer,” Salter remembered. “He had a very serious health crisis, but he would have the very best medical care you could buy. How could he vote to take away health care insurance for people and not give them anything in return?”
The most important lesson McCain took from Episcopal, according to Salter, was that of honor: “You’ve always got to do the honorable thing, even when no one is looking. Maybe no one will know, but you’ll know.”