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Fortunate Son: Mitt Romney’s life is his father’s legacy

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BOSTON — From his carefully coifed hair to his data-driven business principles to his unwavering devotion to his oft-maligned Mormon faith, Mitt Romney is the spitting image of his father physically, professionally and morally.

The depth of their bond can be seen in one early story.

At 18, Mitt Romney met a 15-year-old girl with whom he felt he could share his life. He then left for a year of college and a 2 1/2-year Mormon mission in France, during which time his father not only took his future wife, Ann Davies, to church, but converted her to their faith.

"Your gal looked lovely as always," George Romney wrote to his son in February 1967. "I sat next to her in church and asked if that ring of yours on her engagement finger meant what it usually means, and she said it did."

While the son was frustrated at getting doors slammed in his face as he tried to find converts in a heavily Catholic nation, the father was proud of the success in winning over not only Ann, raised an Episcopalian, but also her brother, Jim.

At the time, George Romney was governor of Michigan and former chairman of American Motors. Ann's father, Edward Davies, had a less lofty title as the part-time mayor of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where both families lived.

"This makes two converts here that are certainly yours, so don't worry about your difficulty in converting those Frenchmen," George Romney wrote to his son. "I am sure you can appreciate that Ann and Jim are worth a dozen of them, at least to us."

By the time Mitt returned in 1969, Ann's conversion was complete. Three months later the couple — he was 22, she 19 — married, first in a civil ceremony in Ann's home and the next day in the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City.

Today, Mitt Romney highlights his 38-year marriage, his five sons and the family life he's built with Ann as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination.

"My dad is my life hero," said Romney. "I probably would have never thought about politics, it would have never crossed my mind, had I not seen him do it. He's the real pioneer."


Asked recently to name his most treasured possession, Mitt Romney had a quick answer: A 1962 Rambler his sons gave him on his 60th birthday. The relic was manufactured during George Romney's final year as American Motors chairman.

The youngest of George and Lenore Romney's four children, Willard Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, a "miracle baby," his father wrote, because Lenore Romney no longer thought she could become pregnant.

Mitt developed a passion for his father's business and sat alongside George Romney as he pored over auto trade publications. The son absorbed the smallest details of the auto industry, down to the minutiae of each car's design.

"I used to brag that you could show me one square foot and I could pick out the model and the year of the car," he said.

Although they lived a privileged life in the Detroit suburbs, Romney's parents sought to instill working-class values by making sure the kids pitched in with chores. That included shoveling before dawn during snowstorms.

Democrats dominated Michigan in the 1960s, no surprise given the strong auto industry and its union workers. What was a surprise was George Romney's success in being elected governor in 1962 as a Republican.

Like the auto business, Mitt Romney learned politics at the kitchen table. Father invited son to strategy sessions, giving him a front row seat on the campaign.

"I saw how he solicited views from other people, how he built a team of great individuals, how he made decisions based on data and analysis and solid thinking and not just gut feeling or opinion," Romney said.

The son would later serve as driver and advance man when Lenore Romney ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1970 on a Republican platform notable for its embrace of abortion rights.


Romney's most formative political experience came during the 1968 presidential campaign.

George Romney was an early favorite after launching his campaign from the family's summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Then, during an interview shortly after he visited Vietnam, he expressed frustration with the increasingly unpopular war and with the generals he felt were misleading the public.

"I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get," George Romney told a television reporter.

"Brainwashing" became "brainwashed" in some accounts, and before Romney knew it, a throwaway line had blossomed into questions about his mental health. He quit the campaign a few weeks before the New Hampshire primary.

Back at his typewriter, George Romney put the loss in perspective for his son.

"Your mother and I are not personally distressed," he wrote. "As a matter of fact we are relieved."

The reversal of fortune was bitter for Mitt Romney and would grate on him for the next four decades.


One day as a Cub Scout, young Mitt and some friends spotted a young girl across a set of railroad tracks, riding a horse bareback.

"What do Cub Scouts do when they see a little girl on a horse?" Romney recalled in a later interview. "We picked up stones and threw them."

Fast-forward to a friend's house party several years later, when Mitt Romney, then 18, spied the same girl, Ann Davies.

This time, Mitt offered 15-year-old Ann a ride home, even though they came with different dates. Later he would confess he was smitten by the fetching teen. Their first date was all-American: a screening of "The Sound of Music."

On another outing, Mitt and Ann joined others in using ice blocks to slide down hills at a local golf course at night.

"We did that with a bunch of high school friends and got caught and got put in the paddy wagons," Ann Romney recalled. "He was just fun, fun, fun to be with him in high school."

As their relationship deepened, Ann asked Mitt about his religion. He feared she would be scared off, but he did his best to explain the basic tenets of the faith. Instead of running away, Ann found in the religion something missing in her life.

Romney proposed marriage at the senior prom. In the fall of 1965, he left for Stanford University but put his studies on hold after one year to undertake his missionary trek — a tradition among male members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the proper name for the Mormon church.

Then, in June 1968, Mitt Romney died — briefly.

He was driving the president of the Mormon mission in France, H. Duane Anderson, and four others on a winding road when their Citroen was struck head-on by a Mercedes that had just passed a truck.

Anderson's wife was killed. A police officer took the unconscious 21-year-old driver for dead and wrote "Il est mort" ("He is dead") on Romney's passport.

As word trickled back to Michigan, George Romney appealed to the U.S. ambassador to France, Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., for assistance. Shriver tracked down Romney, battered but alive, in a local hospital.

When he resumed his studies, he went to Brigham Young University, the Mormon institution where Ann had enrolled. Students there embrace the church's prohibitions on alcohol, caffeine and premarital sex — one reason Romney said so many married young. The first of their five sons, Taggert, was born on their one-year anniversary.

The 1960s was a period of social and political tumult amid the Vietnam War and political assassinations. In part because of his limited time at Stanford, in part because of his collegiate hiatus for his mission work, in part because he attended button-down BYU, Romney stayed above the fray.

He avoided military service, first because of a student deferment, then because of his missionary work. In 1969, when he was finally eligible for the draft, he drew No. 300 in the lottery. No one with a number above 195 was taken that year.


George Romney wanted his son to go to law school after BYU, but Mitt wanted to attend business school. He opted for both, enrolling in a dual-degree program at Harvard in 1971. Over five years, he would simultaneously earn a law degree from Harvard Law School and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Ann and Mitt Romney settled in the leafy Boston suburb of Belmont. Romney reveled in the role of husband and father, loading up son Tagg and his four brothers in a station wagon to take the family on vacations and day trips.

In June 1981, the family set off for an outing at a nearby lake. A park ranger told Romney not to launch his freshly painted boat, saying its registration numbers weren't properly displayed. He threatened a $50 fine.

In typical spreadsheet fashion, Romney calculated the fine as an acceptable price for his outing and decided to launch the boat anyway. The ranger quickly arrested him for disorderly conduct and hauled him off to the station.

The charges were dropped and the records sealed after Romney threatened to sue.

It was a rare clash with authority — and evidence of how vigorously Romney would protect his reputation.


He graduated with honors from law school and in the top 5 percent of his business class, helping him land a prized job at the Boston Consulting Group. He used his analytical and financial skills to help companies streamline their operations and fatten their bottom lines.

He moved to a rival consulting firm, Bain & Co., in 1977, then headed a spin-off envisioned to combine analytical and management expertise with investments in promising companies.

With Romney at the helm, Bain Capital helped launch or reshape hundreds of companies, including Staples and Domino's Pizza. Romney went on to make tens of millions of dollars, part of a net worth now estimated at up to $250 million.

"He's able to focus through all the noise," said Bob White, a longtime friend and business associate.

Romney's leadership ability was needed in an unusual way in July 1996, when a Bain Capital partner called to say his teenage daughter had gone missing in New York City after a concert.

Romney shut down the company, gathered as many partners and employees as he could and raced to join the search. Soon Bain workers were pairing up to scour the city's parks and bars.

"It was like a needle in a haystack," White said.

Nonetheless, Romney's efforts caught the attention of a local television station, whose report in turn led to a tip from someone in the same house where the missing teenager ended up. Police traced the call and located the girl.


In 1994, Romney decided to follow his father's path into politics. And like George Romney, Mitt did not shy from a political challenge. In one of the bluest of Democratic states, the Republican decided to challenge Kennedy, a liberal icon.

Romney started off strong, tapping into a well of Kennedy fatigue. But Kennedy rallied and focused on some of Bain Capital's business deals. He The Kennedy campaign brought in workers from one Indiana business, Ampad, where Bain had laid off employees, cut wages and slashed benefits.

Kennedy ended up winning the election 58 percent to 41 percent.

"He had been advertised by certain pundits as being over the hill, but he is far from it," Romney said. "He took me to school."

The two would meet again for a political fence-mending in 2000, when Romney led Kennedy on a tour of the newly completed Mormon temple in Belmont, less than a half-mile from Romney's home.

The structure with its brilliant white spire was the 100th Mormon temple in the world and a personal achievement for Romney, who worked to spread the faith in New England, where he served as a bishop and later as president of a collection of churches.

He also found an outlet for civic service in the community service organization City Year, according to the organization's co-founder Michael Brown. Romney made sure both Bain Capital and Bain & Co. supported the group.

"He would dive right in. He would get the dirtiest," Brown said, recalling one year when Romney helped build a new playground. "He got right in there in the cement."

Civic service on a grander scale lay ahead.


In the late 1990s, Utah, the seat of Romney's Mormon faith, was reeling. To land the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had enticed International Olympics officials with lavish gifts. Accusations of bribery mired the Games in scandal. Resignations sullied the region's reputation.

Utah officials went looking for a white knight — someone above reproach with business savvy who could not only restore confidence in their leadership but also in the Games and their host city. They turned to Romney.

A friend in Utah suggested Ann float the idea with her husband.

"Ann called me at the office and said, 'Now, don't say no right away,' and she put forth the proposition, and I said no right away," Romney said. "Over time, she convinced me that the Olympics was more than a sporting event."

It didn't hurt that the Olympics had an international profile. Romney took the job of president and CEO of the organizing committee. He pared the budget, boosted revenues and worked to repair the committee's reputation with sponsors.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of the terror attacks, Romney found himself at the helm of a ripe target.

Romney turned risk into reward. Backed by unprecedented federal support, the Games opened under the tightest security in Olympic history. International support for the United States welled at the opening ceremonies, where Romney and President Bush walked to the middle of the Olympic stadium to await the arrival of an American flag from the toppled World Trade Center.

The Games cemented Romney's reputation as a "turnaround" king. That prompted his return to the political arena.

While he was trying to salvage the Olympics, Massachusetts' once booming economy had flatlined. State Republicans, who had held the governor's office since 1991, sought out Romney after Gov. Paul Cellucci headed off to Canada as U.S. ambassador and his replacement, Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, stumbled.

"It would be disingenuous to say he was a reluctant bride," said Ron Kaufman, a national Republican committeeman from Massachusetts who is now advising Romney's presidential campaign committee. "But it was a legitimate draft."

Romney presented himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. He opposed new taxes, but he also pledged not to change the state's abortion laws and vowed support for gay rights and other liberal items. Boosted by more than $6 million of his own money, he won.

The victory only sharpened the parallels with his father's life: successful businessman, dedicated family man and, now, governor.

Romney brought a CEO's focus to state government, as well as a relentless focus on control. His staff put up velvet ropes wherever he went, separating him from reporters and the public. He also displayed a sense of humor, such as the time he got even with a State Police trooper on his protective detail who had shortsheeted Romney's bed in a Florida hotel.

Romney grabbed a piece of hotel stationery, typed a note to himself from a fake hotel manager and said the room's maid had been fired for the linen mishap. Then the governor made sure the note leaked to the trooper.

When the nervous trooper approached him to confess, Romney chortled, "April Fool's."

Daniel Winslow, who served as the governor's legal counsel, said Romney has a "corny sense of humor" and is a big fan of The Three Stooges.

When a story broke about Romney and his sons using Jet Skis to pull a family out of Lake Winnipesaukee — Romney saved the family dog — the staff put a stuffed Scottie on his chair dressed in swim trunks and a life preserver.

"He got a good laugh out of that," Winslow said.


Thomas Finneran, who served as speaker of the Massachusetts House during the first years of Romney's term, said Romney always impressed him as "a bright guy."

But, Finneran said, "One of the lingering memories I will have is the sense of missed opportunities." The former speaker, a Democrat, said Romney chose battles with lawmakers for political gain over real accomplishments.

"We could have and should have accomplished more than we did in those first couple of years," Finneran said. "After those initial years, it was clear his mind was on something else."

His final year in office, Romney spent more than 220 days outside Massachusetts, laying the groundwork for his presidential campaign.

His gubernatorial tenure coincided with some of the most socially divisive debates in the country. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gay couples couldn't be denied marriage licenses.

Romney fought the decision, but he failed to reverse it.

By the end of 2005, Romney approached a self-imposed deadline for deciding whether to seek re-election. His father had served three terms, but Romney decided to leave after just one.

"My decision comes down to this," he said. "In this four-year term, we can accomplish what I set out to do. In fact, we've already accomplished a great deal."

Romney spent the bulk of the next year on the road, except for brief appearances back home, including his signing of the state's landmark health care law.

The other exception was in July 2006, when ceiling panels in a tunnel in Boston's just-completed Big Dig highway project collapsed, crushing a car and killing a Boston woman.

Romney seized control of the board overseeing the project and held daily news conferences, coolly explaining what went wrong — drawing diagrams with black markers on sheets of white paper.

By the time of his final, symbolic "lone walk" down the front steps of the Massachusetts Statehouse last January with his wife, Romney had matched his father's life arc, stride for stride, all the way to the starting line for a presidential campaign.

In February, Romney formally declared his candidacy for the presidency at the Henry Ford Museum in his native Michigan, an American Motors Rambler over his shoulder, a reminder of George Romney's entry into politics.

"The fact that he took that path, of course, has made that something I would consider," Mitt Romney said of his beloved father, who died in 1995. "Otherwise it probably wouldn't have entered my thinking."