CINCINNATI — Jonathan Frierson of Lincoln Heights, Ohio says he's honored to have known Sen. John McCain personally as his bus driver.
“Driving the 'Straight Talk Express Coach' for Senator McCain,” Frierson told WCPO. “Got started in 2000. I was a backup driver.”
By February 2008, though, when McCain was running for president and made a campaign stop for a rally at Memorial Hall, Frierson was behind the wheel and standing beside the door when McCain got off the bus.
McCain had called him in 2007 to take over, Frierson said.
Frierson said he liked that McCain called him by his nickname.
“He always called me 'Fry,' ” Frierson said.
Frierson flipped through a scrapbook and saw himself in several photos and newspaper articles with McCain, who died Saturday after a long fight with brain cancer.
“Felt honored," Frierson said.
One picture in a newspaper clipping from Aug. 29, 2008 showed McCain and Frierson sitting side by side at a Skyline Chili. McCain was looking over the menu.
“He said, ‘Fry, what do you think I should get?’ " Frierson remembered.
“I said, ‘Try a 3-way, Senator.”
“He said, “What about a 4-way?’
“I said, ‘Senator, you might want to consider those beans.’ "
Frierson laughed, but he quickly gave way to sorrow after learning the man he drove and got to know on a personal level had died.
He said McCain had represented “civility and common decency toward each other.”
"You have to agree to disagree. I come from a family of 14. Pop would always tell us you might have a disagreement, but remember you’re always brothers and sisters. Senator McCain really pushed that,” Frierson said.
Another local man, Earl Corell, said he established a personal relationship with McCain over the phone.
“He was so easy to talk to,” Correll said.
Corell, a Vietnam vet like McCain, said he started reaching out to McCain by phone in the 1980s and he figured that they talked eight to10 times on a landline over the next 30 years.
“I thought, ‘I can’t get my local politicians to call me and you have a U.S. senator from Arizona calling someone he doesn’t even know.’ I respected him for that,” Corell said.
Now they cherish the memories they wish they could share with the man they admired.
“I’d tell Senator McCain, 'Thank you for the great opportunity that you allowed me to transport you safely around the country,' ” Frierson said.
Frierson said he and his family plan to visit Washington, D.C., this week to pay their respects.