Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— Democrats are portraying Mitt Romney as a spoiled rich kid. But the Republican presidential candidate’s upbringing was not much different from that of any middle-class kid.
To be sure, his father George W. Romney was CEO of American Motors. The Romneys lived in the tony suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. where Romney attended the private Cranbrook School.
|Mitt Romney is pictured from left with his mother Lenore Romney, his father George Romney, and wife Ann in 1994.
But if the family was well off, it had little impact on Romney’s upbringing. Like most other kids, Romney worked summer jobs. His sister Jane Romney, an actress in Beverly Hills, remembers that she was only allowed to buy one new dress a year.
“I always hated the word privileged, and I never thought we were,” Jane Romney tells me. “My dad grew up with nothing. His father went bankrupt twice when my father was a kid. I walked from my own house to school from the time I was little, in winter as well.”
Tom McCaffrey became friends with Romney when they were both five. His parents had a summer cottage next to the Romneys on Lake Huron.
“He had summer jobs like most kids,” McCaffrey says. “I think one summer he was the night watchman at one of the Chrysler plants in Detroit. Another summer he was sent off by his parents to a working ranch to work as a hand. They were salt of the earth. Even though his father and mother were very successful, they were fairly simple people and believed in hard work. Mitt had to do the chores around the house before he could go off and do anything else.”
When George Romney drove with his family out west for vacations, he would insist on buying groceries along the way for sandwiches for lunch, a way of saving money.
On the Fourth of July, George Romney would invite all the neighbors to his home and would light fireworks. “We always had a grounding of how fortunate we were to be in this country,” McCaffrey says. “Mitt is very patriotic, and that came from his parents.”
From his parents, Mitt absorbed an interest in the political arena. He worked on his father’s campaigns and later his mother Leonore’s campaign for the Senate.
Even though Mitt was the youngest of his parents’ four children, he was their dad’s most able questioner, says his brother G. Scott Romney, a Michigan lawyer. When their father held family meetings to tell them he was thinking of running for office, Scott recalls, “My sisters and I would say, ‘Gee, that sounds fabulous,’ while Mitt would say, ‘Well, have you thought about this?’”
Mitt’s disposition was like his mother’s.
“My mother was a great diplomat,” Jane says. “My dad was not known for his diplomacy. He was more of a hothead and spoke from the gut. But my mother had been an actor, and she had a lot of grace.”
George Romney imparted strong values to his family, values that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasizes: the importance of strong families, honesty, giving to charity, respect for human life, hard work, and clean living.
“We called his father ‘The Brick,’” McCaffrey says. “The reason was that he had incredible stamina and strength. And he was very strong-willed and determined. I think that Mitt got some of those genes for sure, because he’s got the same kind of energy and stamina and strength.”
George Romney died on July 26, 1995 at the age of 88. He collapsed after suffering a heart attack while exercising on a treadmill. Mitt donated his inheritance of $1 million to Brigham Young University.
Aside for paying for his college education, George Romney previously had given his son financial assistance, but only in the form of a $10,000 loan so he and Ann Romney could buy their first house in 1972 at 106 Winn Street in Belmont, Mass.
Having grown up five blocks away, I recall the homes on the street as modest two-story colonial houses with three bedrooms. At the time, Mitt was attending a joint Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School program.
The Romneys sold the house in 1978 for $81,000 and traded up to bigger homes on Belmont Hill. The purchasers, Darrell and Angela Rigby, happen to belong to the Mormon Church in Belmont and became friends with the Romneys.
McCaffrey was struck by the number of African-Americans who attended George Romney’s funeral. He attributes that to the ground-breaking civil rights legislation Romney’s father championed as governor of Michigan.
“I was going to the men’s room, and I ran into an African-American older gentleman, and he asked me, ‘How do you know Mr. Romney?” McCaffrey says. “I explained I was a family friend. He said, ‘Well, I must tell you, he was one of the great friends of the black community.’”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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