Back home in Bath: Celebrated journalist Povich to discuss new McCain book

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BATH — Every time she drives down Front Street, Elaine Povich is greeted by the landmark brick building that bears her grandfather’s name.

Her career as a journalist, author and professor has taken her far from the City of Ships, and produced several awards for her work. But Bath remains near and dear enough to Povich’s heart to prompt a return visit each year, and she’ll be back next week to discuss her latest book, “John McCain: American Maverick.”

Povich will be at The Mustard Seed Bookstore, 74 Front St., from 4-5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17.

The May 1 publication is Povich’s second book about the longtime Republican U.S. senator from Arizona, U.S. Navy veteran, and former presidential candidate. Her first, “John McCain: A Biography,” hit shelves a decade ago, soon followed by a work about Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

“American Maverick,” in contrast to Povich’s first McCain book, is filled with more than 145 photographs from the politician’s life, as well as highlights from key speeches. Filmmaker Ken Burns wrote the forward.

“As much as I would like to take credit for all the words in the book, many of which I wrote, this book is really about the pictures,” Povich said during a phone interview from a cafe on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The pictorial history contains many images not frequently seen by the public, such as family photos and scenes from the campaign trail.

“It really shows him in a variety of places, in a variety of situations,” Povich said. “And I think gives some indication of the many facets of the man himself. He is a statesman, he’s a politician, he’s a military man, he’s a family man, and you see all of the aspects of him in this book.”

The many dimensions of McCain’s personality and the fullness of his life have made him an endlessly compelling subject for Povich.

“When you write a biography about a person, you do in fact spend time with them,” Povich said. “They kind of move into your life; if not physically, certainly mentally. You sort of live with them for however long it takes to write the book.

“The fact that he still keeps me interested, I think, is a testament to the kind of life he’s had,” she said.

Povich and her muse have met on multiple occasions during her career reporting for United Press International, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and now Stateline.

“He is sarcastic and pleasant, depending on which day it is,” Povich said with a chuckle.

She doesn’t know if he read her first book about him, but said McCain has had a chance to look at the second. “I’m told that he enjoyed it,” she said, “and I can almost hear him laughing over some of the pictures.”

Povich hopes her readers will glean a deeper understanding of McCain.

“In this Twitter era that we are living in, people tend to be viewed as one-dimensional, and you’re either for them or against them,” she said. “I think it reduces people just to the caricature.”

But most people are complicated, she said, particularly someone like McCain. “I hope people will begin to understand a little better the kind of man he is,” she added.

Povich – a former president of the Washington Press Club Foundation, a member of the Gridiron Club, an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, and recipient of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress – descends from a distinguished Maine family that includes journalists, lawyers, and business owners. Lithuanian-born Simon Povich started that line in 1875, when he arrived in the state with his son Nathan, according to a history posted at mainejews.org.

Nathan’s children included Shirley Povich, a celebrated sports writer for the Washington Post, and father of TV personality Maury Povich. A cousin of Simon’s, Morris Povich, opened a clothing store in Bath in 1910, where the business name remains clear on the side of the building more than a century later.

It’s a sight Morris’ granddaughter enjoys seeing when she returns to her native city.

“Bath is my home and always will be, despite the fact that I now live in the Washington, D.C., area,” Povich said. “I come back as often as I can, and I am always greeted by Morris on the side of the building.”

Povich, who graduated from Morse High School in 1971, prides herself on being a third-generation student at Morse, after her father Don, and great-uncle. Don Povich ran the clothing store from his father’s death in 1981 until the business closed in 1994.

“Bath has changed in some ways, and not in others,” Povich said. “Everybody still knows everybody on the street. … People still know me here, which is a lovely feeling.”

McCain shares a connection to the City of Ships, too. Vessels bearing the names of his grandfather and father – U.S. Navy Admirals John S. McCain and John S. McCain Jr. – were built at Bath Iron Works, and delivered to the Navy in 1953 and 1994 respectively, according to the shipyard’s website.

The third John S. McCain, named for the senator, was added last month.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Elaine Povich, an award-winning journalist and author, will return to her native Bath Friday, Aug. 17, to discuss her latest book, “John McCain: American Maverick.”

The landmark Morris Povich clothing store building on Front Street in Bath was owned and operated by Elaine Povich’s grandfather. It greets her every time she returns to her native city.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.