The Los Angeles Times published a front page article in its Sunday edition yesterday. It is titled, “Image Gap” [The Romney we see on the campaign trail doesn’t seem to be the one revered by friends and colleagues], by Maeve Reston. I highly recommend reading the entire article by clicking the link above: “Image Gap.”
Those of us that have studied for years the life and career of Mitt Romney are well aware of the many stories that clearly define him as generous with his time; as someone who is patient and genuinely kind to others — a man of service. I have heard some people voice frustration that he does not speak of these experiences and they wish he would. Any student of “servant leadership” knows that a characteristic attribute of such leaders is humility.
Following are excerpts from the article:
The article starts off by describing how Mitt Romney gave a bridge loan to save the home of an executive of Staples at a critical time.
That was the Mitt Romney known to friends and business associates: a man generous to those in need, whose charitable acts stemmed from a deeply rooted sense of duty to help his neighbors.
If the country knows little about what makes Mitt Romney tick, that is in large part because the campaign has walled off large swaths of his background, including some of the most humanizing components, to public discussion.
As a result, 10 weeks before the election Romney remains an enigma to many Americans.
Romney’s advisors have long shrugged off his likability problem, arguing that voters care most about competence and insisting that Obama’s middling job approval rating is a far more important number.
While some might see a contradiction between Romney’s private acts of generosity and his plans to shrink government programs that help the poor or college students, those close to him say there is none. It stems from his belief in individual responsibility and self-reliance, and the view that every American has a duty to help others either through their community or through their church.
“He believes government has a certain role as far as helping people, or helping provide an infrastructure in areas where you can help create opportunities,” Romney advisor Kevin Madden said. But his guiding principle is a belief in “putting our faith in individuals and free markets and free enterprise” rather than “government being the only engine.”
To date, many of the stories friends and advisors tell of Romney emphasize his tendency, as one put it, to personally “run at problems and fix them.” One often-cited episode was his decision to shut down Bain Capital and organize a multiday search party to find a partner’s teenage daughter, who had vanished after a party. After he recruited Bain’s lawyers, accountants and other business associates to walk the streets of Manhattan showing her picture, authorities found the girl in a New Jersey basement. (Notably, the story was used by Romney in advertising for an earlier campaign, before Bain became the focus of months of Democratic gibes.)
Cindy Gillespie, who worked closely with Romney when he ran the Salt Lake City Olympics and then moved to Massachusetts to work with him, recalled a less dramatic illustration of Romney’s approach. When movers left her bedroom set stranded in the driveway of her new town house after failing to maneuver it up a narrow staircase, Romney — then the governor — arrived with three of his sons and
they worked together late into the evening to hoist the furniture over the second floor balcony.
Romney’s friends and family say his instincts are rooted in his Mormon faith and sharpened over his years as a lay leader in the church. For years, Romney’s church work amounted to a half-time job, as he counseled members of his congregation who were dealing with marital problems, substance abuse and financial difficulties related to lost jobs or health issues.
While his efforts to persuade a young woman to forgo an abortion have gained the most attention, some of his confidants note that he spent many more hours dealing with more everyday matters. Often Romney would sit down with a pad and help a couple scratch out their budget — urging them to differentiate between wants and needs. In a privileged life, those experiences had a lasting effect.
“It allowed him to see so many different people and so many different problems that people are facing — to really have empathy for people who are struggling, and to recognize that almost everybody in every walk of life has one sort or another of struggle,” his son Josh said in an interview. “There are so many people out there in need of help or support — he learned a lot of that through those experiences.”
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, who heads a faith-based gang intervention group in Roxbury, Mass., and spoke frequently to Romney during his governorship, saw two facets of the man — the executive and the spiritual counselor — come together after Hurricane Katrina when the Massachusetts Legislature provided shelter on Cape Cod for evacuees. Romney wanted members of the black clergy to attend to the arrivals — because he said some would rather talk to pastors than mental health professionals — and asked Brown to lead the effort.
Romney arrived a few days later, telling Brown he wanted to hear the stories directly from the victims, many of whom were from New Orleans’ hard-hit Lower 9th Ward.
“He wanted to make sure that their needs were being met,” Brown said. “He brought 50 state agencies down there, and everybody’s needs were attended to. I’m talking about people who left their houses in such a rush that they forgot their teeth. He had dentists down there to get them their dentures.… He was on it.”
But Brown was most surprised watching Romney interact with victims — praying with them, sitting with them on park benches asking about their families, scooping up children and asking for hugs.
“He was pastoral,” Brown said. “He was that person with those people.”
One of the stories friends are now telling about Romney — to get across their view of him — details the medical school loan he gave to the daughter of a deceased Bain colleague. Romney met with her every semester, according to his son Tagg, to discuss her grades and expenses. After she graduated, he sent her a Christmas card, forgiving the loan.
Yet that Romney has rarely appeared in public. Asked repeatedly by students how they can afford the escalating cost of college — under his proposals, student loans would be cut — Romney offers not empathy but advice: to borrow from their parents, to find a cheaper college, to “shop around.”
American Values: “In God We Trust” — “Liberty” — “E Pluribus Unum”
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