Cindy McCain's Half Sister 'Angry' She's Hidden Although Cindy McCain has publicly said she's an only child, she has a half sister. Kathleen Hensley Portalski and her son, Nicholas, say they're hurt that they've never been recognized — and that they didn't receive any part of Jim Hensley's estate.
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Cindy McCain's Half Sister 'Angry' She's Hidden

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Cindy McCain's Half Sister 'Angry' She's Hidden

Cindy McCain's Half Sister 'Angry' She's Hidden

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Now, a clarification that's turned into a story. Last Wednesday, we broadcast a report about Cindy McCain's business and charity work. In it, NPR's Ted Robbins described Mrs. McCain as the only child of Jim Hensley, a wealthy Arizona businessman. That night, we received an e-mail from Nicholas Portalski of Phoenix. He told us later he'd heard that story with his mother.

Mr. NICHOLAS PORTALSKI (Listener): We were listening to the piece about Cindy McCain on NPR, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and it just struck us very hard.

SIMON: That's because Nicholas Portalski's mother, Kathleen, is another daughter of Jim Hensley. NPR's Ted Robbins takes it from there.

TED ROBBINS: The Portalski family is accustomed to hearing Cindy McCain described as the only child of Jim Hensley. She's been described that way by news organizations from the New Yorker and the New York Times to Newsweek and ABC. Cindy McCain herself routinely uses the phrase only child, as she did here on CNN last month.

Ms. CINDY McCAIN (Wife of John McCain): I grew up with my dad. I'm an only child. And my father was a cowboy, and he really loved me very much, but I think he wanted a son occasionally.

ROBBINS: Cindy McCain's father was also a businessman and twice a father. Kathleen Hensley Portalski is his other daughter.

Ms. KATHLEEN HENSLEY PORTALSKI (Daughter of Jim Hensley): I'm upset. I'm angry. It makes me feel like a non-person, kind of.

ROBBINS: Documents show Kathleen Anne Hensley was born to Jim and Mary Jeanne Hensley on February 23, 1943. They'd been married for six years when Kathleen was born.

Jim Hensley was a bombardier on a B-17, flying over Europe during World War II. He was injured and sent to a facility in West Virginia to recuperate. There, while still married to Mary Jeanne, Hensley met another woman, Marguerite Smith. Jim divorced Mary Jeanne and married Marguerite in 1945.

Cindy Lou Hensley was born nine years later, in 1954. She may have grown up as an only child, but so did her half sister Kathleen, raised by a single parent. Kathleen says she did see her father and her half sister, Cindy, from time to time.

Ms. PORTALSKI: I saw him at Christmas and birthdays, and he provided money for school clothes, and he called occasionally.

ROBBINS: Jim Hensley also provided credit cards, college tuition for his grandchildren, as well as $10,000 gifts to Kathleen and her husband, Stanley Portalski. That lasted a decade, they say. By then, Jim Hensley had built Hensley and Company into one of the largest beer distributorships in the country. He was worth tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.

When he died in 2000, his will named not only Kathleen but a daughter of his wife Marguerite's from her earlier marriage. So Cindy McCain may be the only product of Jim and Marguerite's marriage, but she is not the only child of either. She was, however, the sole inheritor of his considerable estate.

Kathleen Portalski was left $10,000. Her children were left nothing, a fact Nick Portalski says his sister found out the hard way.

Mr. PORTALSKI: What she found in town on the day of or the day before or the day after his funeral was that the credit card didn't work anymore.

ROBBINS: The Portalskis live in a modest home in central Phoenix. Kathleen is retired, as is her husband. Her son, Nicholas, is a firefighter and EMT looking for work. They say it would have been nice if they were left some of the Hensley fortune. They also say they are Democrats, but Nicholas Portalski says he had another reason for coming forward.

Mr. PORTALSKI: The fact that we've never been recognized, and then Cindy has to put such a fine point on it by saying something that's not true, recently, again and again. It's just very, very hurtful.

ROBBINS: Kathleen Portalski says she'd like an acknowledgment and an apology. We asked the McCain campaign and specifically Cindy McCain to comment or respond. We received no reply. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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