Carol Shepp McCain is the former wife of U.S. Senator John McCain. They were married in 1965 and divorced in 1980.
Carol McCain's Early Life
Born Carol Shepp in 1937 or 1938 (reports vary), she grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A statuesque beauty standing 5-foot, 8-inches tall, she worked as a model for companies like Jantzen swimsuits.
Shepp first met McCain in the 1950s through her future husband, Alasdair E. Swanson, a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and a classmate of McCain’s. Swanson and Shepp were married in 1958 and had two sons, Douglas (born 1959) and Andrew (born 1962). Swanson became a navy pilot and the couple settled in Pensacola, Florida, where McCain was also stationed. In 1964, Carol sued her husband for divorce, citing infidelity as the reason for the breakup.
Marriage to McCain
Shortly after her divorce, McCain and Carol began dating; the couple married in 1965. Their daughter, Sidney, was born in 1966. At the end of that year, McCain requested combat duty in Vietnam where, in 1967, his plane was shot down over North Vietnam and McCain was taken prisoner. During that time, Carol became active in the POW/MIA movement.
On a snowy Christmas Eve in 1969, while visiting her family in Pennsylvania, Carol lost control of the car she was driving and slammed into a utility pole. She was thrown through the windshield and spent several hours alone in the snow before being rescued. Carol suffered severe injuries in the accident and spent the following six months in the hospital. Over the next two years she underwent 23 operations, including the rebuilding of her broken legs with rods and pins. Her extensive medical treatments were paid for by the Texas billionaire and POW activist H. Ross Perot.
McCain was released in 1973 and returned to the United States a war hero. Carol was, as a result of her injuries, several inches shorter than she had been; she had also gained a significant amount of weight. Throughout the 1970s, as the couple became socially and politically active, Carol worked for the Ronald Reagan campaign during his failed 1976 presidential bid and the couple became friends with the Reagans. A rift formed in their marriage as McCain began a series of extramarital affairs.
Divorce from McCain
The McCains moved to Washington, D.C. in 1976 when McCain was appointed Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate. In 1979, on a trip to Hawaii, McCain attended a party where he met Cindy Lou Hensley, the daughter of Arizona beer magnate Jim Hensley. McCain began an affair with the younger woman while he was still married to Carol.
John McCain filed for divorce from Carol in Florida in 1980; by most reports, Carol was shocked at the breakup and had no idea that her husband was having an affair. Carol did not, however, contest the divorce, stating at one point, “The break-up of our marriage was not caused by my accident or Vietnam or any of those things. I don't know that it might not have happened if John had never been gone... I attribute it more to John turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again than I do to anything else."
McCain has accepted full responsibility for the dissolution of their marriage; he wrote in his memoir, Worth the Fighting For, “…[M]y marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity … the blame was entirely mine.” By all accounts, McCain was generous to Carol in the terms of the divorce, which was finalized in April of 1980. McCain married Cindy Hensley one month later.
Life Following the Divorce
Carol McCain continued to be active in politics following her divorce from John McCain. Nancy Reagan hired Carol as a press assistant during her husband’s 1980 presidential campaign. In 1981, following Reagan’s victory, she was appointed Director of the White House Visitors Office, a position she held until 1987. In the 1990s, she began working as a private event planner, and later worked in public relations for the National Soft Drink Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group.
Carol McCain retired in 2003 and settled in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She and John McCain have remained on good terms, and she actively supported his 2008 presidential run, saying, “We are still good friends. He is the best man for president.”
Related Carol McCain Resources
About.com US Foreign Policy: Senator John McCain and U.S. Foreign Policy 
About.com Marriage: Carol Shepp and John McCain Marriage Profile 
About.com American History: Vietnam War 
About.com Fatherhood: John McCain on Fatherhood 
About.com 20th Century History: Ronald Reagan 
About.com Washington, DC: The White House 
About.com US Military: Military POWs and MIAs 
About.com US Politics: US Senate 
About.com Phoenix: John McCain and Cindy McCain 
About.com Divorce Support: Is John McCain Accepting Responsibility? 
United States Naval Academy: Official Site 
The New York Times: McCain and his First Wife 
The New York Times: POW to Power Broker: A Chapter Most Telling 
The New York Times: H. Ross Perot 
The Daily Mail (UK): The Wife U.S. Republican John McCain Callously Left Behind 
Los Angeles Times: McCain’s Broken Marriage and Fractured Reagan Friendship 
Biography.com: John McCain 
National Soft Drink Association: Official Site 
Boston.com: McCain Character Loyal to a Fault 
Concord Monitor: After War, a Personal Renewal 
The Arizona Republic: McCain Profile: Arizona, the Early Years