A Man With a Mission

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mitt Romney spent last week on a presidential candidate announcement tour, speaking in Michigan and Iowa on Tuesday, then hitting South Carolina, New Hampshire and Boston before heading to Florida. Today, in the second installment of Outlook's occasional series on the presidential candidates, classmates, colleagues and competitors from the past remember Romney and his journey from former governor's son to former governor. Also inside: a crash course on the Mormon faith and public life.

Mitt Romney had about the same success as a Mormon missionary in France as most people had: not much.

I served with him in Bordeaux and Paris off and on for 18 months, and for several months we worked as a pair, canvassing the countryside together. A very common way of making contacts is by knocking door to door. We would try to make our approach as interesting as possible. We would introduce ourselves as missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, say that we had a message about Jesus Christ and his appearance on the American continent. Could we have a moment of their time?

Usually the answer was: " Non, merc i."

It was an exercise in humility in the face of rejection. But Mitt always knew how to encourage us to keep going despite the many doors slammed in our faces. Primarily, he led by example. During our service, some of the missionaries had begun to feel that in keeping with their ministerial calling it was not appropriate to laugh out loud very much. Mitt always had a strong laugh and at the time of the proposed laughing ban, he was the top leader in the mission, assistant to the mission president. So he really dispelled the anti-laughing crowd, mostly with his humor.

In the middle of his service in France, he was the driver in an automobile accident in which a woman who was very dear to us was killed. He could have been much more morose, but he led us through that difficult time and returned to his cheery self.

While we were there, we read the book "Think and Grow Rich!" by Napoleon Hill. Some of our church leaders recommended that we use those concepts of positive thinking to overcome doubt and discouragement so we could perform at a higher level. They meant it as applied to our missionary work, but of course it could be applied to business as well. I've often said that Mitt and I read that book at the same time but he read it better than I did.

-- Dane McBride, served as a missionary in France with Romney

* * *

Mitt's father, George, was the governor of Michigan all the years that I knew Mitt at the Cranbrook school. This meant that a Michigan state police detail was at their home all the time. Mitt befriended some of the officers and they left police gifts with him: a shirt, a faux badge, a light, a police belt, among other tokens. Mitt had an innate wackiness, and after we all turned 16 and could drive, he, our friend Butch McDonald and I hatched a plot to use some of those gifts to frighten our unsuspecting dates from Kingswood, Cranbrook's sister school.

The school policy was that the girls could sign out until 11 p.m. on weekends. Earlier in the afternoon of our date, we planted empty beer bottles in the trunk of Butch's car. We agreed that at the appointed time, 10:45 p.m., our car would slowly approach a secluded section of dirt road near the school, and that we would pull over and turn out the lights. Mitt, driving a dark '65 American Motors vehicle (his father had revived that ailing car company before running for governor) topped with a revolving red light, and dressed in his goofy police uniform with a U.S. Air Force hat and dark glasses, came up behind us and approached the driver's window. In a gravelly voice, he asked the two of us to exit the vehicle and open the trunk. The bottles were discovered and rattled for effect. "Step back into the car, boys," the "officer" said, and returned to his vehicle. We expressed mock alarm, peeled out on the dirt road and rushed the girls into the school parking lot just in time. Minutes later, at the local drive-in, we three perpetrators reveled in our success.

-- Stuart White, Cranbrook classmate of Romney's

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