A Virginia physician, McBride has been friends with Mitt Romney for more than 40 years. The two met in 1966 while serving as Mormon missionaries in France. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on July 13, 2012. (58:03)
A Virginia physician, McBride has been friends with Mitt Romney for more than 40 years. The two met in 1966 while serving as Mormon missionaries in France. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on July 13, 2012.
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Tell me when you first met Mitt Romney and your first impressions of him.
I arrived in France in August, late August of '66. Mitt had gotten there about six weeks earlier. We first met in October of '66 in the city of Cologne, France, in Normandy. It was at a training meeting for the missionaries in Normandy and Brittany.
And I was very excited to meet him, because as it happens, his father was a great personal hero of mine going through my high school years. I read a lot about his dad. I read a book called Romney's Way. He was a guy I admired a great deal. And he was of my minority religion but making it big in the secular world, so he was a guy that I had a lot of admiration for.
Now I was going to meet his son, and I began to get a little apprehensive as the day got closer. Gee, what's he going to be like? Is he going to be stuck up? Is he going to be, you know -- "Don't try to get too close to me, groupie," or something like that? It was anything but that. He was gregarious; he was friendly; he was a friend to all. He was clearly very bright. He spoke better French at that point than most of those who had come out in the summer that he had come out in.
We would present our message by memorizing a set of discussions in those days; it's not done that way now. And it helped us to learn the language by memorizing these dialogues. So we would practice those together. So in this training meeting we practiced them, and it was clear that he was way ahead of most of those who had come out at this time. He impressed me as being very bright, very gregarious, very nice, funny. Laughed a lot, and just seemed to uplift people around him. ...
So as I understand it, you and Mitt were not originally in the same location. Is that correct? So tell me when you first started living in the same place and working together.
It wasn't until early spring of 1968. My companion and I had been assigned to work in Bayonne-Biarritz just north of the Spain border on the Atlantic coast in the Basque country. In fact, we were the first Mormon missionaries who had ever been assigned to that area. About that time Mitt was assigned as a zone leader; that is, supervising the missionaries in the southwestern segment of France, including our area.
About, as I recall, in late February, maybe it was early March, my companion's mother passed away, and he opted to go back to the States for a period of time. And then that left me without a companion in the farthest outpost from the mission headquarters in Paris. So I was assigned to work with Mitt Romney and his companion, Terry Lafferty. I had been the zone leader in that area so I knew the roads, I knew the apartments and so forth, so it facilitated their learning the lay of the land there as well. ...
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How Mitt's faith was strengthened in France
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As I understand it, it's a pretty intensive sort of schedule and time commitment throughout the day of what you're doing. Give me a sense of that day, of what a day in the life was like there.
You'd usually wake up at 6:00. You're supposed to be out of bed by 6:00 in the morning. You get cleaned up, get dressed. You'd have time for your personal prayers, and you'd have a prayer with your companion as well. You'd study together, and then you'd study independently the language, the scriptures, the missionary discussions. For a new missionary, you'd be struggling and working hard to memorize these things. And the guy who'd already been there for a year and a half already knew this, so he'd be helping, and you'd receive instruction from your older companion.
But you'd spend that time until around 9:00, 9:30 in the morning, and then go out and start trying to contact people with an eye to be able to teach them. That's what we were there for, was to teach people about our faith. So we would find whatever the best methods were for contacting people. The tried-and-true and well-worn method was knocking on doors. So we knocked on thousands and thousands and thousands of doors. ...
Mitt Romney has described sort of in his own words that when he first arrived, his beliefs at that time were based on "thin tissue." I've heard you speak about this. But help me understand that Mitt Romney in his early days. Describe him for me and how that applied.
Well, just think about the age. You're going from a young teenager to an older teenager to a young adult. That's a time when you start looking at, questioning, deepening your understanding, asking yourself the questions that by virtue of added maturity you'd start asking anyway, and this in a setting where you're teaching it to other people.
So you really have to come to grips with, do I believe this? How do I know this is so? I'm supposed to teach this and then give personal testimony that this is true. That's part of the power of the teaching of the Mormon missionaries. But you can't do that unless you know it. I mean, it's really hard to if you don't know it. Just personal integrity won't allow you to do that for very long if it's not real inside, so you really come to grips with that.
And so you really start studying the scriptures. You ask yourself the question, you wrestle with the scriptures, and you say, did this really happen? Did these miracles of Christ really occur? ...
And part of that, you -- again, as I understand it -- especially during that time that you were living together with your third friend, you would have helped each other spiritually connect and teach each other back and forth. And so talk about that experience working with Mitt Romney in that period of time for the three of you together.
Well, it's a little hard for me to focus just on that particular period. We worked again together in the last four months or so of our mission at the Paris headquarters of the mission.
By the time we were working together, we had gotten through those first struggles like that, and we were both more seasoned, so it was more a situation of sharing some passage of scripture that had a great deal of meaning to us, and sharing our feelings about that, and saying: "Wow, that's really neat; I hadn't thought about that before. Thanks."
Rather than persuading each other of things, it was a sharing of personal discoveries, and then having experiences in teaching people, and sometimes in having some very negative experiences with people that helped weld a bond between you as well.
Talk about some of those negative experiences and those challenges.
Well, oftentimes, a set of apartment buildings would be owned by the Communist Party, and we weren't necessarily apprised of that. So we'd start knocking on doors and get some very hostile responses at the door, people who were angry about the U.S. being in Vietnam; people who said: "You Americans are all racists. Why do you hate the blacks?"; and all these kinds of things. "Go home and straighten out your own country. What are you coming to France for?," and so on.
And they got uglier than that sometimes. Sometimes you start walking away and some fellow would start kicking you in the seat of the pants. I thought it would be funny if one of those guys realized that they one day was kicking the future president of the United States in the seat of the pants.
It didn't happen a lot. And you're 19, 20 years old, male; you're inclination is to respond physically to that. But you're a missionary, so you don't. Again, great maturing experience: restraint, learn to control your emotions and so on. ...
Mitt Romney has been described by his sons, his wife as a jokester, a prankster. Was he that guy overseas as well?
Oh, yeah. It was always fun around him. He was always laughing. He didn't crack a lot of one-liners. It wasn't like that. It was that he would laugh about our circumstances, and we'd sometimes -- I can't remember the specific little pranks, but it was things where you'd surprise or just have a good laugh at the other's expense. But you knew it was going to come back around. And so there wasn't any offense at all. I can't remember the specific ones.
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In a letter to his parents, he talked about reaching out to people through singing and basketball exhibitions and archeology lectures and street meetings, etc., and even going to bars to try to spread the message. So talk about the creative ways you all came up with to reach out to people.
Well, knocking on doors can get pretty old, so we developed what you'd call creative contacting, and Mitt was very good at that. I enjoyed that a lot as well. Others were more comfortable just knocking on doors.
But Mitt was pretty creative. We would have an American soiree where we would invite youth groups or people we'd meet on the street and knocking on doors, and we'd invite them and maybe the youth in their home to come to it. Some of us play guitar, and we'd sing some Western songs or some cowboy songs, something like that. And we'd have a baseball night, or we'd have -- goodness, what else? We'd make hamburgers and serve some American-type food. And the interest in something a little exotic -- i.e., American -- was interesting for people to come to as well. So we'd make friends in that way. ...
And for people that don't understand, what was the ultimate goal in talking to those [people]? It was sharing your religion. Was it trying to have them join -- tell me what the goal was.
Well, the goal was to teach people, and with two endpoints in mind. One was, if they didn't choose to join our church, then to know more about it and have a truer picture of it rather than what they heard in a lot of very biased and misinformed press releases or articles. To this day in this country, there's a lot of misunderstanding, people who believe that Mormons practiced polygamy and those kinds of things. So our hope was to disabuse people of incorrect concepts about our church.
But what we really hoped was that we'd be able to talk with them, share our faith with them, and invite them to come to know also that this was a truth that they could relate to and could bless and improve their lives.
So ultimately, as with missionaries through all time, it is to try to bring people to know God and to embrace those truths and practices that are going to improve their lives and be a blessing to them and make their families happier. That message of family was very, very important, and it was a message that probably had the greatest response and resonance with people, so we stressed that a great deal.
As I understand it, Mitt encouraged everyone to read the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Tell me about that book and the significance of it.
Well, I don't know that Mitt encouraged everyone to read that. One of our church leaders, Howard W. Hunter, was at that time one of the 12 apostles of the church. He later became president of the church.
But in talking with the missionaries, he said: "You may want to get the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and read that, study it. You're not here to be rich, but you can take those principles and apply the principles of success to what you're doing here."
And so we did, and we studied that together and talked about the concepts and talked about how we would apply that in what we're doing. And then we did apply that, especially during the time that Mitt was the primary leader in the mission. Those principles, we'd go city to city and talk with the missionaries in groups there and employ those principles for helping to lift them and encourage them and to help reach goals that we had set.
Tell me how you first learned about Ann Davies.
Oh, goodness. I guess it was while we were driving around southwestern France. "You got a girl back home?" -- you know, as you get to know each other. "Oh, yeah." You know, "Boy, she's a beauty," and she's this and that and the other and so on. And he clearly loved her. Was silly in love with her. And it had been a hard thing for him actually to decide to go on a mission, principally because he was reluctant to leave Ann for that long. But he did. And so I learned a lot about Ann. ...
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... Talk to me about what you observed of Mitt's relationship with his father and the role that his father played in his life.
Well, at that point I didn't know George Romney except having read about him. My first opportunity to meet George Romney, though, was in France. He was running for the Republican nomination leading up to the '68 elections, and he came there, and I met him.
But Mitt wasn't with me at the time that I met him. But I was very impressed with George Romney that here was a man of strength, a man of character, straight-talker, great individual -- a man of great faith and conviction as well.
As Mitt and I became friends, he talked about his dad, always admiring him. He talked about how his dad absolutely insisted that the kids respect their mother. And he said, "The only time I saw my dad get really, really mad at us was when we disrespected our mother." And he said, "That was absolutely off-limits."
He admired his dad's integrity and everything. So he admired his dad a great deal. That's what I saw. ...
During that period of time -- and I don't know timeline-wise, in terms of the time that you spent together -- but his father was running for office. It must have been hard for him to be so far away during such an important period of time. Did he talk to you about that?
Yeah. We would get ahold of the New York Herald Tribune and try to follow things along. And of course he'd get letters from his dad and his mother, probably his mother more than his dad, and kind of keep up on what was happening.
It was a disappointment when his dad had a sudden drop-off. He'd been leading in the polls and then dropped off suddenly when he declared Vietnam for what it was. And it wasn't a popular position to take. But that was George Romney. ...
- Ψ ShareWatching society break down in France and the U.S.
You all were away from home during a pretty tumultuous time in America. Martin Luther King was killed, the Vietnam war was going on --
What was it like to be abroad, be in France while all of that was happening back in America?
Well, leading up to that was what was happening in France. That was actually more disconcerting.
Talk to me about that.
In May of 1968 France was near collapse. The French Republic -- was it the Fifth Republic? I think the Fifth Republic -- was on the verge of collapse. There were strikes every day of one kind or another: electricity strikes, trash pickup strikes, all kinds of -- the postal strikes. There were riots in the streets in many places -- not everywhere, but in many places.
There would be days in a row where you were instructed to not go out, just stay in the apartments, lay low, just stay kind of out of sight for safety and so as to not get identified with maybe one group or another group, because we stayed apolitical, of course. ...
It was a very unsettling time. And we saw this happening in France. I think a lot of us thought, well, at least things are good back home. And then they weren't. There was not only the assassination of Martin Luther King and then only weeks later that of Robert F. Kennedy, and then later in the summer was the Chicago Democratic convention riots. So it seemed that the world was changing very rapidly while we were kind of out of it, out of the world.
I think I've even heard you speak that or quoted that that kind of turmoil and disorder and going against the rules was something that really bothered Mitt. Tell me about that.
It's not just a matter of going against the rules; it was the fact that there was societal breakdown. People were in fear. It brings out oftentimes the very worst of people. They start withdrawing within themselves, looking after themselves instead of looking after one another. It is disconcerting in society -- and maybe more so to younger people than older people, I don't know; I guess it is to anybody -- that when you see things falling apart, you know, "Gee, the stores are closed; what do we do?" The stores close and have a cobblestone, a paving stone thrown through the window. What's going on here? Are we safe, and so on.
Our work couldn't go forward in that setting. It's when order was re-established, when people are abiding by the law and being good neighbors, being good community members, then we could do what we were there for. So I would say there was no admiration on our part for those who were being disruptive.
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A life-changing car accident
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... You described, I read somewhere, the fall of 1968 as an epochal moment in Mitt Romney's life. So tell me [about] that, and why you say that's the case.
In June '68 is when the automobile accident occurred.
Talk to me about that.
Actually, Mitt at that point was in Paris. I was still down in Bayonne. We corresponded occasionally, but didn't have as close a communication as we'd had when he was in Bordeaux, so I was getting information secondhand during most of that time around the accident.
But the accident had occurred. As you probably read, Mitt was driving the mission vehicle, the mission president in the window seat, his wife in the middle seat, which was the common practice back then, and a three-person bench in front. And then there were three individuals in the backseat. They were coming from, as I recall, the city of Po, and they were going to be driving up to Bordeaux where some of the passengers lived, and then they'd continue on to Paris.
It was during that segment of the trip before getting back to Bordeaux that as they came around a bend, another car, a Mercedes-Benz -- I mention the Mercedes-Benz because it was like a tank versus this car that would tend to kind of explode on impact -- came around the curve in their lane, and they hit head-on.
The mission president was injured badly enough that he had to go back to the States for medical treatment for several weeks. His wife was killed.
You have to understand the mission president was like the surrogate father there; his wife, surrogate mother, the mission mother. And she was to many of us a mother there, so it was an awful loss for us that she was killed. And Mitt was badly injured and famously was bloodied, broke his arm and had bruised face and so forth, was unconscious when the gendarme came up to investigate the accident, and he was pronounced dead, obviously prematurely. And he recovered over the coming weeks. But I think folks in the backseat were not as injured. I think everyone was injured to some degree.
But that was a difficult time. Mitt was the driver. I never saw that he blamed himself, but you always have a certain sense of responsibility when you're the driver and someone is badly injured or killed in your car. I don't believe he was one to beat himself up over that, but it was still a lot for a 20-, 21-year-old young person to take in, process, and move on. But he had the maturity to know that you have to put some things behind you and move on ahead. There was a job to do, and we're going to do it, and he did that.
... It clearly wasn't his fault -- someone hit him -- but as you say, that responsibility. And yet it's pretty amazing to me that he was able to pick up and move forward without needing to go home or to take that time or to go away.
I think part of that is because of our faith, the fact that [we have] a deep conviction that this isn't the end of all life; it's just the end of mortal life, and that we'll regather afterward, and that there's purpose beyond this life, and that Sister [Leola] Anderson now had gone on and would be involved in great work going on on the other side of the veil, and that our job now was to make a success of what she had been there for and what she had nurtured us for, and that that's what you have to do.
Again, you learn to cope with, in this case, a tragic loss even. But you're learning to cope every day with difficulties. Again -- and those are the kinds of things that cause someone to come back a much more mature individual two years later, as opposed to just being off at college and having a great time.
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You talk about using that as a motivating force. And you all came together and really sort of made it your mission to also succeed, and succeed above and beyond. Talk to me about that period of time and how you came together to help boost up the spirits of the others that were there with you.
Well, again, recognizing what spring had been like, and then the accident, and all the bad news coming back from the U.S. of upheaval that was going there, just as there had been in France -- kind of similar, not on the same scale -- there was a pall over the mission. Missionaries were not -- they weren't looking up as much. You didn't see the happy, smiling, typical happy faces of the Mormon missionaries like one usually sees.
At that point we'd had some goals of new converts to the church during the year. We'd been earlier in the year on a pretty good track there, and then it kind of flattened out. And as Mitt became the senior assistant shortly before I had come onboard there in the mission home, we started talking about what do we do about this? So there was an analysis of what was the matter? What do we do about it? How do we lift spirits? How do we effectively challenge people to higher performance?
So we decided to do all of the above. One of the things that we did was that we wrote some songs that we set to music, popular tunes, some stories of what was going on in the mission in different cities. ...
So we made up these songs and put missionaries' names in these things. But in Angoulême, to the tune of "We Three Kings of Orient Are," we put together a little song that was -- which I actually won't sing right now -- but anyway, it was very clever. And it caused people to just holler and laugh and just get outside themselves again. And there were about 15 such songs that we did. And they were fun. It was fun making them up; it was fun performing them. We had found some vaudeville outfits that were in the basement of the mission headquarters where they had a play one time, and the three of us, Bill Ryan, Mitt and myself, donned these vaudeville jackets, straw hats, red vests and billed ourselves as the Righteous Brothers. We performed these songs. It was fun. It was laughter again. And it seemed to uplift and brighten spirits.
At the same time, we took the serious side of it as well, and that is we'd go from city to city meeting with missionaries there, talking with them about what's involved in leadership, maybe [ask] a district leader there, "What is your responsibility?" Talking about how you motivate, how you uplift, how you challenge.
And then Mitt did something that I think was really remarkable, is actually very typical of him, but it was I think a surprise to everyone. He said: "In order to get all of us to really do our best, we've got to do something that's going to cause us to do differently than we've been doing. Let's raise the bar. Let's raise the goal."
Here it was, Sept. 1 or so, and we were only halfway to the goal. He said, "Let's raise it by 40." And so we went from 160, the goal became 200, so in the last four months to have 120, whereas in the first eight months there had been 80.
And that did help to motivate. You couldn't just keep doing what you're doing; you had to do something different. You had to do something better. And so the missionary companionships would plan together better; they'd be more serious about what you do differently, how we'll improve. And it was effective.
I saw that later on, and we can get to that later. But I saw that later on when we were at BYU [Brigham Young University] together as well, that Mitt showed that kind of leadership.
As someone who had struggled to get -- you know, it's not easy getting people to listen, let alone converse. When he raised that bar, do you remember your reaction and [that of] the people around you? Was it well received, or was that extra challenge something that you all were a little, you know --
I was fine with it. I was there as a part of it. And we read Think and Grow Rich Together, so this made all the sense in the world.
But our job was to then sell that idea and motivate others to move up to that. And that was an interesting and a fun challenge. And it was very gratifying to see -- again, these are 19-, 20-, 21-year-old young men stepping up and doing this. Again, in the process of that, just great bonds, like brothers in arms together. Some of those friendships have, again, lasted over decades and decades.
As you work together, as you come together, as you succeed together, it's a great experience. And Mitt was a great leader of that, better than anyone I've ever known before, or since really.
Why? Tell me about that.
Just his personality. The fact that he had thought things through well. He presented things in a very logical and persuasive and convincing way.
But you also knew that he had the energy to do what he was talking about. It wasn't, "You guys go out there and do this." He then demonstrated with them. After we teach and train, we then go out and work together. And he made it fun. And people responded to his leadership.
Do you think that's something that's just inherently in him, part of who he is? Or do you think that period of time for him with connecting to his faith and growing and being independent and being a leader, it all came together? How do you see that balance?
I think he always had that innate ability. I think that this schooled it and disciplined it and directed it, focused it. Whereas before there had been pranksterism or one thing or another, now it was really directed toward very worthy goals and to really uplifting people, and realizing that that was a great key to leadership is to uplift and inspire. And he did.
And you achieved your goal.
We did. ...
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'The prospect of losing Ann was just devastating'
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During that period of time he got another sort of kick in the gut. He receives a letter from his dear Ann. So tell me about that.
It was probably when we were in Paris together, and Ann had gone to Brigham Young University as a young, pretty freshman and apparently caught the eye of the student body president, who was a very sharp fellow. He had importuned a few times, and finally she did go out on a date with him. And she wrote to Mitt and said she'd gone out on a date with him. And actually she'd gone on a second date with him.
And Mitt was just really disturbed by this. I mean, he was so deeply in love with Ann, the possibility, the prospect of losing her -- I have to say that in the culture of Mormon missionaries, "Dear Johns" are very, very common. I'm told there's only about 4 percent of those who started out together end up together, that the girls say after two years, two and a half years especially as we were there, it's a long time to wait. And so most don't. And everybody's the better off for it, I suppose.
But the prospect of losing Ann was just devastating to Mitt. About the only time I've ever seen him -- again, this was during this time of leadership that was going on, and the training and so on -- during that few weeks there he was kind of going through the motions. You could tell his heart was not altogether there. And he was trying to do it, but then you'd see him just in tears at times as he'd get a letter. "What am I going to do? What am I going to do? There's nothing I can do."
And I think that's what was interesting, is when he was -- Mitt is a doer. He's a problem solver, and there was not a thing in the world he could do about it, and that was a great frustration to him.
Then one day this wonderful letter came: "Mitt, you're the guy. You're the guy I want to be with for all eternity." The lights came back on, and with renewed vigor things went forward again. ...
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And as you look at your friend, the young man that you met in those first days on the mission who spoke well and wasn't arrogant, but sort of the man that left to return home, how do you think he grew during that period of time?
He went from being an exuberant young man to being a seasoned leader who had been through a world of experiences and had accomplished some great things, not by himself, but by his leadership.
And again, Mitt has the great ability -- and you saw this later on in the Salt Lake Olympics, for example -- to inspire people to work together. And he gets out and rolls up his sleeves and works with them. And it's not we're doing this for Mitt; it's that we're doing this together. And we all share in the joy of that success together. ...
Shortly after you returned home you attended the wedding of Mitt and Ann Davies. Tell me about that event.
I have to tell it from my perspective. I grew up as one of seven children in a schoolteacher's family. Our means were always very meager and limited. For me to go from Quincy, Ill., where my family was now living, up to Michigan, to Detroit, to attend this wedding -- I met Gov. Romney and Mrs. Romney in their home; that is senior Gov. Romney. And it was just an honor to be in their home. This is a guy I admired and idolized, and here I was staying in their home, and it was really neat. And then meeting Ann, and she was just a lovely girl. I can see why Mitt was just so enthralled with her. And she was just sweet and nice and friendly, and so eager to meet Mitt's old companion. And so we became good friends.
I met the others in the wedding party. And then after their civil service, civil marriage in Bloomfield Hills, then George flew the wedding party out to Salt Lake for the solemnization of their vows in the Salt Lake Temple. And so again, a great lark for me. This isn't something that was in my previous experience to do that. In fact, I think that the only other time I had ridden on an airplane was when I went to France and came back. So this was a neat experience. ...
You attended BYU together after. And at that point you both lived in similar housing as husbands and wives. Tell me about what that period of time was like in your life and what it was like to be back at home in a place that felt safe and comfortable, surrounded by people of like mind after coming home from France in such a challenging circumstance.
Well, I have to tell you, by the time I was at BYU, I'd been home for over a year, almost a year and a half. I had gone to school in the Midwest at that time. It was when my wife and I got married that we then came to Provo, Utah, where BYU was. That was in June of 1970 that we were married.
And during that summer we lived in the same -- I don't know how many apartments, probably nine apartments in this apartment building. Mitt and Ann were in a semi-subterranean apartment. We were at that point on the second floor. ...
And during that summer we did some things, water skiing -- Mitt is a great water skier, and loves boating and water skiing. And so on Utah Lake we went skiing. I really hadn't done that before, so I learned. Mitt taught me how to do this. And Mitt and Ann did. They were good at it. My wife had done it before, but I had not, so this was a first for me. So we did that together.
We lived a very meager lifestyle. We liked it when it would be fun to go out to dinner together. We didn't go to some restaurant together. It just wasn't in the cards. But we got some hamburger or we got some spaghetti; we got some lettuce; we got some tomatoes -- let's have a spaghetti dinner together. And so we'd do that and have a fun time.
You know, when you're young and poor -- I guess they probably weren't poor, but I couldn't tell any difference between them and us at that time. They lived like we did.
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It does seem to be a fairy-tale love story. As someone who spent a lot of time with them together, describe the relationship between those two.
Well, Mitt just adored Ann, and Ann just adored and respected Mitt. And you could see it in their eyes. You could see it in the way they treated each other.
We'd see that a lot in young married couples who are very much in love and so forth. But then you'd see that also over the years with Mitt and Ann as well. I mean, it was not uncommon for young couples to be very much in love, and giving great deference to one another and so forth. But then does that persist over the years? Well, you see that it did persist over the years for them. ...
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His leadership sort of continued at BYU as well. And it seems that from that point on he was kind of on a trajectory of success. Is that a fair--
Yeah, it is. It's a fair thing. While we were at BYU, Mitt was called into a leadership position within the church organization as well. He was a top-notch student, was a valedictorian. He had assistant pastoral responsibilities then as a student. He was a counsel to the bishop that makes him an assistant pastor, for all intents and purposes.
Plus he was the head of the Cougar Club, the BYU Cougar Club, this organization which would usually -- it was kind of a leadership group. In order to get into it, you needed to have some leadership credentials, some things you had done either as a missionary or maybe in business, or having been a student body officer in high school or something like that. And that was part of your application. You made an application to join it. At BYU they don't have fraternities, but they had these service clubs, and so you apply to get into them, and you're selected in or not, just like you would have in a fraternity kind of thing. So this was a group of leadership-oriented individuals. They were all young men at the time. It was a men's club, like a fraternity would be.
This organization, admirably, would raise $10,000, $12,000, $13,000 doing all kinds of things: luaus, bake sales, mum sales at homecoming, sponsor a dance and so forth, to raise money. And we raised quite a bit of money. This was in 1970-71. So it was already admirable the level of fundraising they were able to do.
Mitt becomes president. He says: "Guys, why don't we leave a real legacy to this school that we love? Why don't we raise $100,000? And put it in place so it can be repeated year after year after year." And guys with this leadership mentality said, "Mitt, you can only do so many luaus a year." And he said, "No." He said: "Let's do something different. Let's approach the administration" -- and again, I assume that's how that worked, but -- "We'll approach the administration, see if they will give us contact information of everybody who's ever matriculated through the school, and then set up phone banks. There are not enough of us to do this, but we'll get hundreds of other students to do this, and to volunteer, come in during certain hours and set up these phone banks, and then call and ask for $5, $10, $25, $100, whatever somebody can afford to send."
Now that's done very commonly now, and most of us get multiple calls from our alumni offices. And I went to a few different schools, so I get several. But that was not commonly done then. I don't know if it was the first time that it had ever been done. I don't know that it was a new idea. It was new to us on campus there.
So we did that. The goal was reset. Motivation -- be there rallying the troops, showing them how. Mitt was again positive, fun-filled, laughter and congratulations, and "Oh, great," and all this kind of stuff, and building some competition in the process and so forth.
In a year we raised a $100,000-plus.
And I remember Mitt saying to us, "Guys, if we can do this," he said, "and we put this in place, if we can do it this year, it can be repeated year after year. And when we're old men, 40 years old, we'll be able to look back and say, 'We did that.'"
Did you have any question that this man would be successful?
No, I was confident he would. In fact -- though I didn't say it to him, because I knew that he did not want to -- he never talked about a political career ever that I recall. And there were people who wanted to suggest that he should do that. And I saw him back away after his father's experience. He didn't seem to want to go down that road at all.
But I said to people, "If one day Mitt Romney does not become president of the United States, this country will be cheated." I saw him as a tremendous leader. And that was at a young age. And I wasn't alone. There were others who did also. But Mitt didn't really brook conversation about that. ...
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What the public doesn't understand about Mitt
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One of the issues that he's had to deal with on the road is that people sort of feel like they can't connect to him, that they don't relate to him. So as you see the man out there, how does that differ, the public perception from the person that you know?
I'm not sure why there is that perception. I think when people meet him and know him, they're just astounded at how he's presented by people who do not know him, people in the press who don't know him, who simply are reciting what they've read and heard others say.
A good example was I think the Fox News commentator Dick Morris, who I think had never been particularly fond of Romney, at least as I viewed his commentary along the way. One day I think last December, or something like that, he had a chance encounter with Mitt at a restaurant in Detroit, at the airport hotel restaurant. And just happenstance they were both waiting for a plane. It was about 45 minutes later. They had this chat. Dick Morris comes on and says: "I never realized what this guy was like. He's a delightful person. You'd love to spend a weekend with this guy. All this business about --" and he basically said, "Essentially everything I've been thinking about him was wrong."
I don't know. I mean, I have my ideas of where it came from and so forth. But Mitt is inherently, I think it's a part of some humility about him that he's respectful. He has a respect for an audience; he has a respect for a group. So again, in a generation that was raised with dress for success, present yourself for success and so forth, that that's how you do things. And maybe that comes across stiff or whatever. But you only have to talk with him and shake his hand for a couple of minutes and realize that this is a guy with great leadership, great warmth. You're not a leader if you don't have warmth.
The idea that he could have done what he has done and be cold, stiff, robotic, not connecting is a myth.
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In terms of the way that you saw him looking at his father -- I mean, the father-son relationship is really a special one.
I think he did have a desire to please his father, to be able to succeed in business and succeed in the ways that his father would be proud of him to succeed in. And I suppose that that could include politics as well.
But I think that his -- at least in those years, he had certainly a desire to be able to succeed as well as his father had, and for his dad to say: "Good job, Mitt. Good job." That's a sort of normal son-father, father-son kind of desire. Not that everybody wants to please their dad, but he admired his dad, and I think he wanted to be in that same league as his dad.
So two things. Just going back to the mission. The idea of being in Bordeaux, wine country, a Mormon trying to sort of sell clean living -- how challenging was that?
That's a challenge throughout all of France. The polite and cordial people would invite you in to have a drink, and we'd explain: "No, thanks. We don't drink alcoholic beverages. But we'd like to be able to share a message with you."
There are people who wouldn't want to talk with you if you did that or if you showed that you're of a society that didn't drink or something like that. But it was a source of some laughter and ribbing, and we took the ribbing well, and we joked about it ourselves. And we didn't think ill of them for enjoying fine wines. It's just that it was outside of our tradition.
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His mother, you spent time with her after you got to know the family. Describe his mom for me, because she's less in the public eye than others, but it sounds like [she was] an incredible woman in her own right. So tell me about Lenore.
She was just a bright light, and just kind and inclusive. She took a great interest in young people, including us. At one point there was an invitation to maybe look after their house like we were doing over at this other house that we were looking after, but just always just as kind as she could be.
But she wasn't a cream puff. She had a spine of iron. And when something wasn't right, it just wasn't right, and it was going to change. So you saw a resoluteness, but a kindness, a humility.
Again, I come back to that principle of humility, humility I think in a family of great capabilities and great ambition in the sense of a job to do, we're going to accomplish it and succeed at it. It's a recognition that you hope to have God's help in what you do. But you have to do all of your part and then recognize that whatever you accomplish it was only partly you and others. And with God's help you can accomplish a lot of things. I saw that very much in his mother and in his father.
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Looking at the man that you see now on the campaign trail, and having gone through such important years together in terms of growth, are there things that you see of him now that stem from that time that you spent together that you can sort of see working themselves on the campaign trail or a quality that he has in him?
Yes, but refined a hundred times. One can speak in terms of the ability to handle rejection, to handle objections, heckling, that kind of thing, the ability to be able to speak and to be able to speak on your feet, and to be able to inspire, to share ideas and to communicate grand ideas.
But he has by force of what he has accomplished -- as young men we did that by way of conviction. Once you can combine that with 40 years of experience as well, you're a lot better at it. So I see him now and I say to myself: "Gee, Mitt, how do you keep up this pace? How do you do this day after day? This is remarkable."
And I love the way that he explains things to people. He's a great teacher. And I think we're going to see him be an educator in chief, as well as a commander in chief, once he's president.
Is there anything that you want to share that I missed?
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There are a number of anecdotes of Mitt's helping people over time, and in a way that did not draw attention to himself when he could have.
In 2007, there were fires in San Diego. His neighbor in the cleanup of that had a big stump to try to remove and so forth. Mitt went with his son over to help the neighbor. He was running for the Republican nomination at the time, had Secret Service assigned to him -- didn't bring the press to show what a great guy he was going over to help those in need and so forth, but he just did so, because his natural calling is a helper. And that's who he is. ...
I think it sounds like that is his natural instinct to do those acts rather than sort of --
It is. It's a fundamental part of who he is. And I think it really sunk in, really took root during that time in France, and then just grew from beyond it.
Why do you say that? What do you mean by that?
Well, I think he'd been a pretty carefree, fun-loving kid before then. But I think that once he began to feel a sense of stewardship for others, that was where it began. I don't know that he had that sense of stewardship for others as a 17- or 18-year-old, not in this way. But that's what you're all about for two and a half years was serving others there. And that allowed that which was naturally in him to then come to the fore, and he found that it was a very important part of himself.