On April 4, 1995, four of Mark and Sheryl Nixon’s six children were driving back from a youth group meeting outside Boston when the driver of the minivan they were in lost control of the vehicle, which side-swiped a utility pole, struck two trees and flipped over.
The two front seat passengers—Rob and Reed Nixon, both high-school athletes—were severely injured in the wreck, their necks shattered, their bodies paralyzed. The boys underwent numerous surgeries, and the family quickly incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses, not only for the treatments but also for a special van and an addition to their house to accommodate their sons’ conditions.
New to the Boston area and without the means to pay for their sons’ care, the Nixons had few places to turn for help.
Enter Mitt Romney. On Christmas Eve, the Romney family showed up at the Nixon home unannounced, bearing large boxes full of gifts, including a stereo system, VCR and a generous check for Rob, Reed and the entire Nixon family.
“I knew [Romney’s] schedule. I knew how busy he was. And their whole family came. He was actually teaching his boys, saying, ‘This is what we do. We do this as a family,’” Mark Nixon told Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in “The Real Romney.” “We’ve never forgotten it,” Sheryl added. “It stood out so much in our minds and helped us to want to be better parents, too.”
Romney later offered to pay for the boys’ college education and participated in a 5K road race and fundraiser for them. In subsequent years, he also made large financial gifts to a golf tournament in their honor.
The 2012 presidential campaign has thus far shed little light on Romney’s private life, a part of the candidate’s life that neither he nor the media seem willing to discuss. That’s unfortunate because it is in his personal life that one encounters the most compelling and commendable aspect of Romney’s character, his generosity.
Romney’s generosity toward the Nixons wasn’t a passing moment of magnanimity. It was part of a well-established pattern in Romney’s life of charity, often rooted in humility, that has helped define the candidate’s life.
Romney gave away more than 16 percent of his income in 2010 and 2011, and has consistently donated more than 10 percent of his income during his adult life. But Romney hasn’t only given money; he’s also donated his time.
After Romney’s friend and neighbor Joseph O’Donnell’s son Joey died of cystic fibrosis, Romney helped lead a community effort to build a playground in his honor at the Winn Brook School in Belmont, Mass. “There he was, with a hammer in his belt, the Mitt nobody sees,” O’Donnell told Kranish and Helman.
Romney’s generosity continued. A year later, O’Donnell got a call from his wife. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said, “but Mitt Romney is down with a bunch of Boy Scouts and kids and they’re working on the park.”
O’Donnell said, “[Romney] did it for like the next five years, without ever calling to say ‘we’re doing this,’ without a reporter in tow, not looking for any credit.’”
When a colleague’s 14-year-old daughter ran away from home 16 years ago, Romney dropped everything. “I don’t care how long it takes. We’re going to find her,” Romney has been quoted as saying at the time. He shut down the entire office and sent 56 employees to New York City to help find her. Another 250 people from Wall Street firms joined in. About 200,000 brochures with the girl’s photo were distributed, a toll-free tip line was created and private investigators were hired. Eventually, the daughter was found safe and sound in another state. Some critics have questioned the significance of Romney’s role in reuniting the family; the incident has been featured in political ads.
During his 1994 bid to unseat Ted Kennedy for U.S. Senate, Romney appeared at a shelter for homeless veterans and discovered that the price of milk was killing the shelter’s budget. A few days later, Romney called the shelter and said that he wanted to cover part of its milk costs and was adamant that he didn’t want any publicity. So he paid half the shelter’s milk costs. “It happened not once, not twice, but for a long period of time,” the shelter’s food services director said.
Aides and friends say Romney is naturally hesitant to talk about himself at all, let alone his generosity. He considers it bragging.
“There’s so many stories of Mitt helping and reaching out and helping other people, and he’s very modest about it, and he doesn’t talk about it,” Ann Romney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News earlier this year, the New York Times reported.
“I’ve seen him visit with needy families in gang-ridden neighborhoods,” said former police chief Kenneth Hutchins, according an article posted on Slate.com. He’d “show up in his jeans to help a family move, counsel with individuals who were grieving. I’m also confident that he helped many financially, but he has never disclosed his generosity, nor would he.”
No doubt Romney is reluctant to talk about his good works in part because they are motivated by his Mormon faith, of which some Americans are suspicious. But while serving others is a hallmark of Mormonism, it is also valued by most other faiths and by most people generally. Generosity and charity are universal values.
There are significant doctrinal differences between Catholics, evangelicals and Mormons. But they share a commitment to the belief that we are all called to help those in need.
One can only admire Romney’s reluctance to highlight his own acts of charity. As Proverbs 27:2 states, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.” But by ignoring Romney’s generosity, the Romney campaign has walled off some of the candidate’s most impressive achievements and most attractive character traits.
As the campaign prepares to reintroduce Romney to the broader electorate for the final time, it needs to get personal. It is time for the candidate and his surrogates to tell the story of the Generous Mitt Romney.
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is chairman of Campaign for Working Families, a political action committee. Daniel Allott is a writer at American Values, a Washington, D.C., area public policy organization.