Arizona’s Cindy McCain, who has become a beacon worldwide for those living under the most difficult circumstances, received the 2020 Heritage Award from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry Wednesday.

The award is the Chamber’s highest honor presented annually to individuals whose accomplishments and commitment impact not only Arizona but the world.

Recipients of the award are those who “have taken their personal success and used it to change the lives of others for the better,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Chamber, said at the event that was sponsored by the McCains’ favorite NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals.

McCain, whose work includes creating worldwide awareness about human trafficking, joins the ranks of Arizona’s most influential citizens who have received the Heritage Award.

First awarded to Senator Barry Goldwater in 1991, fellow recipients include Alice Cooper, Rose Mofford, Mo Udall, Jerry Colangelo, Paul Fannin, and Frank Kush.

“As I look at the people on this award, I am in awe,” McCain said. “George W.P.  Hunt, Carl Hayden, Barry Goldwater and Sandra Day O’Connor. I have the honor of knowing three of them. The grit, the grace, the big heart, the entrepreneurship in the history of Arizona is on this award and it’s a real honor to be included in their company.”

McCain said she’s also honored to be named along with her late husband, longtime Arizona U.S. Congressman John McCain, who died of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, in 2018.

Early contributions to the less fortunate

McCain, who has lived all her life in Arizona, was raised as the daughter of one of the most successful men in America. But as a young woman, she had no interest in jet-setting, she said.

Instead, she opted to fly to the far reaches of the “worst areas of the world” to help those trapped in poverty, suffering from life threatening disfigurements, or held hostage in human trafficking rings. She was astounded by the atrocities she discovered.

“The lack of care and the lack of respect for women around the world is mind boggling and it really makes me mad,” said McCain, who wishes more people would make small contributions to help devastated communities in the U.S. and abroad.

She has traveled to places like Rwanda, the East Congo and Bangladesh, teh country where she adopted her daughter Bridget, whose severe cleft palate was a threat to her life. Nursing Bridget through multiple surgeries motivated McCain to work with Operation Smile. The charity provides free facial surgeries for cleft palates, cleft lips and other malformations.

Reaching out to war-torn and disaster areas 

In 1988, McCain founded the American Voluntary Medical Team to send medical personnel to disaster-stricken and war-torn developing world countries.

She has traveled the world to help with the removal of landmines, sent medical supplies to devastated communities, promoted early childhood brain development, and advocated for injured veterans through her involvement with charities like the Eastern Congo Initiative, CARE, HALO Trust, Project C.U.R.E., Too Small to Fail, and Warriors and Quiet Waters.

Putting an end to human trafficking

McCain has also brought great attention in Arizona, the nation and the world to the plight of women and children who are victims of human trafficking.

She co-chairs Governor Doug Ducey’s Arizona Human Trafficking Council and chairs the Human Trafficking Advisory Council for the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Through her work, new laws have been passed and community initiatives jump started.

Bringing civility to politics and the internet 

McCain also is carrying on her husband’s wish to bring back civil discourse to politics and the internet through the McCain Institute.

The think tank was founded in 2012 with Arizona State University to “advance leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom, and human dignity, in the United States and around the world.”

“There’s more that unites us than divides us and we should respect our common heritage,” she said.

Chair of one of nation’s largest Anheuser-Busch distributors 

McCain also is an Arizona businesswoman. Her parents, Marguerite and Jim Hensley, began to grow the Hensley brand when they first brought cold beer to the state in the 1950s.

Today, she is chair of her late father’s enterprise, the Hensley Beverage Company, one of the nation’s largest distributors of Anheuser-Busch.

Raised under her wing 

During the ceremony Wednesday, several notable Arizonans and close friends of the McCains talked about her lifelong philanthropy: Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona Cardinals owner and team president Michael Bidwill, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Hensley CEO Bob Delgado, and Richard Adkerson, CEO of Freeport McMoRan.

Several spoke about her being a role model to her and Sen. McCain’s seven children. Her son Jack spoke about what it was like to be raised under her wing.

“When I was about 13, she essentially said, ‘It’s time to work.’ So she had me come to Hensley Company and my first job was delivering the mail, being a gofer,” Jack McCain said. “And then a few years later, I went to work in the garage.

“Of all the jobs I’ve had — whether it’s been in the military, elsewhere, in combat — that was by far the worst because I had to sand and strip food trucks outside in the Arizona summer. I think she viewed that as a learning experience and she also made sure I was paid the absolute minimum possible.

“So it was quite a learning experience. One that sticks out.”

To see a complete list of Heritage Award winners, go to: Arizona Heritage Award 1991-2020.


This story was originally published at Chamber Business News.