For Whom the Bell Tolls


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



The phrase “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was made popular by the novel written by Ernest Hemingway. The book was written about the struggles of soldiers fighting and dying during the Spanish Civil War. Death was the basic theme that was woven into the fabric of Hemingway’s narrative.

It has long been the tradition that church bells toll whenever someone of importance neared death or died. This was done to honor the life and the legacy of the departed. Four-hundred years ago, the poet John Donne acknowledged this practice of ringing the church bells when he wrote “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.”

Donne wrote, “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.” Later he writes. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, therefore never ask for whom the bells toll; it tolls for thee.”

This week, bells will toll, and flags will fly at half-staff, in honor of Senator John McCain.

McCain liked to refer to himself as a maverick. Merriam Webster defines a maverick as, “An independent individual who does not go along with a group.”

That is a fair assessment of Senator McCain. He was thoughtful and independent. He did not always go along with the group. Many Republicans have been upset with Senator McCain because he openly disagreed with them and refused to vote along party lines.

Although the Senator was a lifelong Republican, he never hesitated to voice his disagreement with fellow Republicans or the Republican party leadership.

In this way, he often reminded me of Governor John Kasich. In 2016, Kasich was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Here is the thing you have to realize, the Republican Party is my vehicle… not my master.”

Senator McCain certainly understood that.

John McCain had a reputation for losing his temper. By some reports there were times that he even had temper tantrums. His opinions were strongly held. His opinions could be strongly expressed.

However, he still held respect for those he fought in the political arena. Political foes could remain personal friends.

He was beaten in the 2000 Republican primary election by George W. Bush. However, they remained friends. President Bush will eulogize his old foe this week at McCain’s funeral.

McCain was beaten in the presidential race of 2008 by his senate colleague Barack Obama. However, they remained friends. President Obama will also eulogize his old political foe this week.

People can disagree with each other. They can disagree passionately and still maintain respect for each other. Obviously, Republicans and Democrats disagree on many things.

The greatest point of disagreement between the two parties is that Republicans believe in limited government intervention in our lives, while Democrats tend to favor more governmental support of individuals.

That may be an oversimplification, but it is basically true.

Senator McCain could see pros and cons at either end of the political spectrum, but essentially, he believed in the Republican principles of limited government. He supported a strong military. He also felt that the government needs to play a role in education and in assuring that healthcare was available to all citizens.

His views could confound his allies and adversaries alike.

There have been times when I have strongly disagreed with President Trump, but never more than when he stated that John McCain was not a hero. During an interview in 2016, Trump claimed that McCain was only a hero because he was captured. Trump said, “I like people who weren’t captured, OK?”

Senator John McCain’s life has been one of service to his country. From the time he enrolled in the Naval Academy through his military and political career right up until his death, McCain worked tirelessly for this country.

Agree with him or disagree with him… John McCain will always, always be an American hero.

John McCain always lived his life in service to others. He never considered himself to be an island. He lived his life knowing he was part of something greater; because of this, he worked to improve all mankind.

In honor of John McCain, flags will fly at half-staff. Church bells will ring.

For whom do the bells toll? They toll for John McCain.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist