PHOENIX — Thousands of Arizonans were expected to gather Thursday morning for a memorial service here honoring Senator John S. McCain, with tributes expected from sports stars, family members and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to an adopted son of this state who became one its most iconic figures.
One day after his family, friends and fellow lawmakers paid their respects to Mr. McCain as he lay in state inside the rotunda of Arizona’s Capitol, the late senator was to be remembered for his 35-year-career in Congress, in a service suffused with the culture of the Southwest.
A Navajo flutist was planning a hymn, recalling Mr. McCain’s relationship with his state’s native tribes; a leader in Arizona’s Hispanic community was expected to offer remarks; and the Arizona Cardinals great Larry Fitzgerald was also expected to speak from the pulpit of the sprawling North Phoenix Baptist Church that Mr. McCain once attended.
Following the service, the coffin carrying Mr. McCain will be taken by motorcade to the Air National Guard base at the Phoenix airport and transferred to military aircraft for one final trip to the nation’s capital. In Washington, Mr. McCain will lie in state in the Capitol on Friday before a memorial service on Saturday at the National Cathedral. He will be buried near his alma mater, the Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., on Sunday.
Saturday’s events in Washington will include planned eulogies by the two former presidents who extinguished his own White House ambitions, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But first Mr. McCain is being remembered in the state he served and the place he spent his final months.
Before he married his wife, Cindy, and moved to Arizona in 1981, Mr. McCain had lived longer in a Hanoi prisoner of war camp than he had any other place, a point he made with devastating effect when questioned about his ties to the state in his first House campaign. But Arizona voters elected him the following year and supported him every time he was on the ballot, including in two failed presidential bids, up through his re-election to the Senate two years ago.
With his Vietnam heroism and celebrity preceding him, the rootless son and grandson of admirals would eventually become as identified with this state as the political giants he succeeded, Representative John Rhodes in the House and Barry Goldwater in the Senate, before ultimately eclipsing both.
“When all of us here traveled and told people we were from Arizona, people knew two big things about it: John McCain and the Grand Canyon,” Gov. Doug Ducey recalled Wednesday in remarks at a private ceremony in the state Capitol. “Imagining Arizona without John McCain is like picturing an Arizona without the Grand Canyon — it’s just not natural.”
While the service on Thursday was expected to focus on Mr. McCain’s legacy in his adopted state, Mr. Biden was expected to use his eulogy to remember his former colleague and close friend, a relationship that evoked an earlier era of bipartisan comity in Washington.
The two served together for over two decades in the Senate, often sparring over policy disagreements, and faced each other from opposing presidential tickets in 2008. But the garrulous Delaware Democrat and the sardonic Arizona Republican forged a deep friendship that was cemented when Mr. Biden’s eldest son, Beau, learned he had brain cancer. He eventually died from the disease, the same one that Mr. McCain succumbed to on Saturday.
Visiting Mr. McCain at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz., this past spring for what they both knew was a moment to say goodbye, Mr. Biden recalled that his former colleague encouraged him to consider another presidential bid. And that he told Mr. McCain what he had meant to him.
“I wanted to let him know how much I love him and how much he matters to me and how much I admire his integrity and his courage,” Mr. Biden said in an interview earlier this year.
The service on Thursday was to begin with an honor guard meeting Mr. McCain’s family and his coffin. Hundreds of the late senator’s constituents were invited, and another thousand seats were made available for the public.
The planned schedule includes readings from Scripture by two of his seven children; a tribute from a close confidant and former chief of staff, Grant Woods; a bagpiper; and a singing of “Arizona” by an ensemble from the school two of his sons attended.
And in a nod to Mr. McCain’s affection for both tradition and rebellion, the service was to start with the singing of “Amazing Grace” and end with a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”