Mitt Romney: Running on Faith

by | Jan. 14, 2008

From his chiseled good looks and astonishing success in the business world to his traditional family values, Mitt immediately stands out in any crowd--and the pool of presidential candidates is no exception. Despite these qualities, however, the one thing that distinguishes Mitt the most in the political arena appears to be his LDS faith. Some have pressured him to abandon or distance himself from the very religion that helped mold his character, believing he would more easily win the Republican presidential nomination if he did. But despite the opposition, Mitt stands firm in his faith. Here's a closer look at how the gospel, his family, and his desire to serve have defined his life and his presidential candidacy.

A Legacy of Leadership

Willard Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, to Georgeand Lenore Romney--George, a powerhouse in the automobileindustry, and Lenore, a budding actress who abandoneda three-year contract with MGM studios for family life. The couplehad three children, and according to doctors, Lenore should not have been able to conceive again, let alone carry a baby to term. But true to the pattern he would replicate throughout his life, Mitt exceededexpectations. Doctors were baffled by his arrival, and from then on hismother called him her "miracle baby."

Throughout his childhood, Mitt loved spending time sitting withhis dad as he read the newspaper. His father talked about headlineswith his young son and shared insights about current events and theworld in general. And while other boys his age dreamed of becomingfiremen or policemen, Mitt's admiration for his dad fueled his dreamsof running a major car company; George had become chairman andCEO of American Motors in 1954. Mitt's father was his hero, and their close relationship would shape the rest of Mitt's life.

Not only did his father introduce Mitt to the world of business,he also gave Mitt his first glimpses into the world of politics. In 1963,during Mitt's sophomore year of high school, George's reputation asa businessman helped get him elected as governor of Michigan. Mitt worked for his father as a campaign aid and later as an intern in thegovernor's office where he had an insider's view of politics in action. Mitt also accompanied his father to the 1964 Republican National Convention where George made headlines by walking out on nominee Barry Goldwater because of Goldwater's opposition to civil rights.And while he decided not to jump into the race this time around, George later announced his presidential candidacy for the 1968 elections. Although he led in the polls early on, he eventually lost ground to Richard Nixon. After the election, George was appointed to Nixon's cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development where heserved until 1973. Mitt's mother would also dip her toe in the political water, running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1970.

Mitt the Missionary

After graduating from high school, Mitt spent his freshman year of college at Stanford University. Afterward, he left to serve a 30-month mission in France. As is the case with many missionaries, Mitt saysthe experience strengthened his testimony of the gospel.

"Being in aforeign place in a foreign language with a foreign faith, you really do alot of soul searching about what you really believe," he says.

Mitt's uncanny focus and energy made him an effective, hardworkingmissionary. In the "Conversion Diary," a newsletter of the Frenchmission, Mitt was recognized numerous times for the number ofhours he spent tracting, number of copies of the Book of Mormon he distributed, and number of return visits he was able to schedule. He served as a zone leader in Bordeaux and later as assistant to the mission president in Paris.In June of 1968, while serving in Paris, Mitt was involved in a tragic car accident. He was driving a car full of missionaries, includingthe mission president and his wife, when they were struck nearly head-on by another vehicle that had swerved into their lane.

The mission president's wife, Leola Anderson, was killed, and Mitt was knocked unconscious. When French police arrived at thescene, they were unable to revive him and wrote on his passport,"Il es mort": He is dead. In reality, he suffered a broken arm, fractured ribs, and a concussion.When the mission president, Duane Anderson, returned to the U.S. to bury his wife and recover from his injuries, Church officials asked area president Joseph Fielding Nelson to supervise the work in Paris. On the evening of his arrival, however, he met with Mitt and his companion to discuss what needed to be accomplished. In the morning, President Nelson packed his bags and left the two missionaries to handle things on their own, believing they were capable of running the mission themselves.

It was during this period that somepeople say they first saw Mitt emerge as a leader. Together, Mitt and his companion made a plan called the Drive of 200--a challenging goal of 200 baptisms in the mission by the end of the year. Mitt motivated his fellow missionaries with his vision and devised innovative ways to engage the French, including basketball exhibitions, archeology lectures, and slideshows about the U.S. He even once gave a lecture on American politics. The missionaries exceeded their goal, and Mitt completed his missionary service a few months later.

The Love Story

When Mitt left for France, he left behind his high-school sweetheart, Ann Davies. He admits to being tempted to stay home and get married, but Ann insisted that he go--despite the fact she was not LDS herself.

"She said, 'You've got to do it or you'll regret it the rest of your life andI don't want to be a part of that,'" Mitt recalls.

Mitt first met Ann in elementary school, but it was years later at abirthday party that he really sat up and took notice of her. The two began dating, and they fell in love."I didn't want to be anywhere else but with Ann," Mitt recalls. "I wanted to be with her all the time and couldn't imagine being anywhere else besides being with her. And so, at the senior prom, as we danced a little bit, we went outside of the school and I turned to her and said, 'Ann, would you marry me?' And she said 'Yes.'"

Unlike Mitt, Ann had been brought up in a home where religion had no place, and she had been searching for answers for years. On one of their first dates, Ann asked Mitt what Mormons believed, so he began with the Articles of Faith. When Mitt entered the mission field, his father, who was serving as governor of Michigan and running for president at the time, continued to help Ann learn more about the Church. He spoke with her parents and got permission to send missionaries, despite her father's intense dislike for organized religion.

She decided to be baptized, and Mitt's father did the honors. Soon her younger brother Jim also joined the Church, and they were eventually followed by Ann's older brother Rod and his girlfriend Cindy. Many years later, her mother was also baptized, shortly before she passed away.

After Ann graduated from high school, she began attending Brigham Young University. She wrote a letter to Mitt only a few months after his terrible car accident informing him that she was beginning to have feelings for another boy she met on campus. Mitt pleaded with her to wait for him, and she did. When Mitt returned from his mission, Ann was there at the airport with his family to welcome him home. On the car ride home, Mitt proposed once more and Ann accepted. They were married in the Salt Lake temple three months later.

Marriage and Family

"For Mitt and me, the greatest blessing in our lives is our family," says Ann. "Twenty-five years ago, Mitt's work often required him to travel. . . . When Mitt would call home and hear the exasperation in my voice, he would remind me that the work I was doing inside ourhome was far more important than whatever he was doing at the time. His work was temporary, but my work would last forever."

Despite Mitt's hectic work schedule, the family did their best tospend time together. They took frequent family vacations, and every Saturday the boys did plenty of work.

"We had a mandatory three or four hours of chores with my dad," recalls Tagg, the oldest of Mitt and Ann's five sons. "It's not cool when you're 15 years old, but I'm glad he taught me how to work." He continues, "I was in awe of my dad growing up. We always felt like we had so much of his time. I don't know how he got everything done. And when it came to the Church, he taught us the importance of doing things like home teaching faithfully."

As Mitt's success in the business world flourished, he began togrow very prosperous. And while the kids knew they were well off, they didn't realize how much money their father was making. In 1989, Mitt and Ann made their first major purchase--a large, five-bedroomhouse, renovating it and installing a pool and tennis court. Tagg recalls, "I was on my mission when they sent me a photograph of the house they had purchased. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't figure out how they could afford it."

In 1997, Ann began losing her balance and having trouble walkingup and down stairs. She began having trouble swallowing, needing more sleep than usual, and feeling nauseated. At the urging of her family, Ann went to see a neurologist. Mitt went with her and was crushed as he watched her fail test after test. Finally, after an MRI, Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"When [the doctor] left the room, I broke down. Mitt cried too. He would've much rather have received the diagnosis than watch me receive it," recalls Ann.

Througha combination of conventional, alternative, and equestrian therapies, Ann eventually found some relief from her symptoms. Today she is a major advocate for multiple sclerosis research.

Through the good times and the bad, Mitt and Ann's love has endured. They have been married for more than forty years.

"Ann's love for me, of course, is the greatest source of joy I couldpossibly have," says Mitt. "The boys recognize that she is my best counselor; she's the best source of wisdom, the best source of perspective and insight in my life."

Tagg adds, "My dad is completely smitten with her. The biggest sin we could commit as kids was to talk back to my mother."

The Magic Touch

Mitt graduated with honors from Brigham Young University in 1971. Four years later, he graduated from a joint JD/MBA program fromHarvard Law School and Harvard Business School. He graduated cumlaude from law school and was named as a Baker Scholar, graduating in the top five percent of his business school class. His success in academics would translate well in the business world.

After finishing college, Mitt went to work for The Boston Consulting Group, where he had worked as an intern. From 1978 to 1984, heserved as vice president of Bain & Company, Inc., another local consulting firm. He eventually left to co-found Bain Capital--a privateequity investment firm. During the 14 years he headed the company, Bain Capital's average annual internal rate of return onrealized investments was 113 percent. His leadership and business instincts played a vital role in the success of well-known companies such as Staples, Brookstone, Domino's, and The Sports Authority.

In 1990, Mitt was asked to return to Bain & Company as CEO to help them avoid financial collapse. Within a year, Mitt was able tomake the company profitable again, without layoffs.

A Friend in Need

In July 1996, the 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay,a partner in Mitt's firm, disappeared. She'd been missing for three days, and her father was distraught. It was discovered she had attended a rave party in New York City, became high on drugs, and had not been seen since.

Mitt immediately closed down the entire firm and flew 30 business partners and employees to New York City to search for the missing girl. He set up a command center in a conference room at a hotel. He then hired a private detective firm to assist with the searchand established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the New York City Police Department. He also called everyone he did business with in New York City, asking them to help the company find their friend's missing daughter.

Mitt and others scoured every part of New York City, searching through Central Park, asking drug addicts and prostitutes if they had seen her. They even made rounds at the local night clubs at 3 a.m. hoping someone would recognize her.

The next day, a teenage boy phoned in and asked if there was a reward, but he became nervous and hung up. Fortunately, police were able to trace the call to a house in New Jersey. They found her in the basement, shivering from drug withdrawals and close to death. Doctors would later say she probably would not have lasted another day.

"Mitt's done a lot of things that people say are nearly impossible,"says Gay. "But for me, the most important thing he's ever done is to help save my daughter."

An Olympic Hero

Mitt left his lucrative job in 1998 when he was asked to assume leadershipas president and CEO of the troubled 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games Organizing Committee, which was riddled with corruption and had fallen $379 million short of its revenue benchmarks. He immediately worked to raise money and cut costs. Before he arrived, the organizing board regularly enjoyed elaborately catered meals. But in his famous no-nonsense business approach, Mitt served pizza at his first board meeting, charging each board member one dollar per slice.

During his Olympic leadership, Mitt not only filled the $379 million gap, but he generated nearly a $100 million surplus. He would also personally contribute one million dollars to the Olympics and donate his $825,000 salary to charity. While America was still mourning the horrific events of 9/11 just a few months earlier, and national security was on high alert, Mitt had the tattered flag that flew over Ground Zero reverently brought to center stage in the opening ceremonies. He showed a worldwide audience the resilience and strength of the American people while heading the most successful Olympic Games in history. This effective leadership would prime him for his run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002.

When it came time to choose people to help carry the Olympic torch across the U.S., Mitt settled on the theme of heroes. He chose Ann as his hero, and she had the honor of running with the Olympic torch in hand. While this was a privilege in itself, it was especially meaningful to the Romneys. Ann had made great strides in overcoming the debilitating symptoms of her disease, and it was an amazing feat for her to run at all. When she first moved to Utah with Mitt in 1999, she could barely walk. Tears streamed down the faces of her husband and children as they ran beside her, and her friends wept as they cheered her on from the sidelines. Everyone recognized the magnitude of her accomplishment and acknowledged the moment as a deeply personal victory for her.

The Road to the White House

In 1994, Mitt won the Massachusetts Republican Party's nomination for U.S. Senate. His belief in a strong family served as a central platform for his run against political icon Ted Kennedy. Though early on Mitt was tied with the senator, or even leading in the polls, Kennedy ultimately won the election with 58 percent of the vote compared to Mitt's 41 percent--the smallest margin in Kennedy's nine elections to the Senate.

Mitt would again make waves in the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts a few years later, this time as a Republican candidate for governor. He won the election with 50 percent of the vote and was sworn in as the 70th governor of the state on January 2, 2003.

Upon entering office, he inherited an estimated $3 billion state deficit. Once again, Mitt was able to work his magic by cutting spending and lowering taxes. By 2006 Massachusetts boasted a $700 million surplus. Mitt served one term and did not seek re-election. By this time, his sites were set on a loftier goal: the White House.

Mitt's Presidential Candidacy

Mitt's crusade to strengthen American families lies at the heart of his presidential campaign as well. He paraphrases best-selling author Peggy Noonan when he describes the world as an ocean where our children swim, and it has become a passionate priority of his to "clean up the water."

Mitt says, "I'd like to see us clean up the water in which our kids are swimming. I'd like to keep pornography from coming upon their computers. I'd like to keep drugs off the streets. I'd like to seeless violence and sex on TV and in video games and in movies. And if we get serious about this, we can actually do a great deal to clean up the water in which our kids and grandkids are swimming."

Mitt plans to do this through enacting or enforcing a number of laws. As president, he would propose new, tougher federal penalties for first-time offenders who use the Internet to victimize children, including mandatory jail time. He would also work with computer and software companies to ensure all new computers come with optional parental control software filters that are ready and easy to use during setup. In addition, he would promote and increase awareness of available parental control filtering products for existing computers. Mitt says he would also require the Department of Justice to enforce existing federal obscenity laws.

The Faith Factor

Despite Mitt's extraordinary leadership, conservative values, and keen business sense, the quality that he is most known for as a presidential candidate is his LDS faith. Since he announced his candidacy, he has been bombarded with questions about the Church, and it has become one of his biggest obstacles on his path to the White House.

In response to relentless inquiries, Mitt recently chose toaddress concerns about how the Church would influence his role aspresident of the United States. In what could be described as the most defining moment of his first presidential run, Mitt delivered a powerfulspeech on December 6, 2007, entitled "Faith in America." In the speech, Mitt made reference to John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in which Kennedy had to address concerns about his religion. And while assuring Americans that he did not confuse religion and politics as governor of Massachusetts and would not do so as president, he made it clear that he would not distance himself from his religious beliefs. He said, "I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers--I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it."

Although he stated his belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God and Savior of the world, he did not elaborate on LDS doctrine. He stated, "There are some who would have a presidential candidate describeand explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

Although Mitt received criticism for not explaining specific points of doctrine as some had hoped, many in the press praised him for his historic speech. Chris Matthews of MSNBC, for example, said, "If he wins the presidency, it started here. . . . I heard greatness this morning."

Despite the media frenzy over his LDS faith, Mitt remains a strongcontender for the Republican presidential nomination. But regardlessof the outcome, Mitt has made known what he believes America needs, and that is exactly what he set out to do.

"He's been blessed withan amazing talent for leadership and the desire to serve," says Tagg. "He has a duty to the country and to God to see what comes of this."

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