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Rocky Mountain News (CO) February 4, 2002 Section: Special Pullouts Edition: Final Page Number: 8S Caption: Mitt Romney's ride as Salt Lake Organizing Committee president hasn't been all smooth. There have been bumps; particularly, charges the Winter Olympics are viewed as the Mormon Olympics, which make him bristle. By Hal Stoelzle / Rocky Mountain News

LEAP OF FAITH
Source: Paula Parrish News Staff Writer Be jealous of Mitt Romney. At 53, he's brilliant, charming and handsome with a beautiful wife, five wonderful children, three homes and enough money in the bank to eat filet mignon and lobster three times a day. Be thankful you are not Mitt Romney. He works 12 to 14 hours a day, his wife is battling multiple sclerosis, he barely has seen his children or grandchildren in the past three years, his Mormon faith has been unctuously scrutinized - and he's about to become either the most famous man associated with Utah since Brigham Young, or its most infamous goat. A major success in business and finance, Romney could have retreated into a life of golf and champagne cocktails years ago. But coming from a well-to-do political family and being morally bred to succeed and to serve, that wasn't an option. So, like the cowboy wearing the white hat, Romney rode into Utah almost three years ago and agreed to become head of the then-endangered Salt Lake Olympics. Since then, his square shoulders have carried these Games out of an international bribery scandal, across a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and through the panic surrounding security preparations that erupted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ``He's an enigma to most people,'' longtime friend Kem Gardner said. ``People constantly ask why he would leave Boston and come out here, what's in it for him? The truth is, he comes from a very unusual family, a family that gave a lot back in terms of volunteerism. He came out here really just to help us put on a great Games. He's not even taking his ($285,000 annual) salary, because he's doing this strictly out of a sense of giving back.'' As the clock ticks down to the most important Winter Olympics ever staged, Romney, the head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, still is licking his lips and attacking even the most minute problems with a sizzling energy that engulfs ballrooms. He's a hurdler and always has been, always looking for the next challenge - jump high, land well and enjoy the smooth spots even while you're looking for the next hurdle. In high school in Michigan, one of his cousins ran cross-country. So he decided, spur of the moment, that he could, too - without any training, without any preparation. ``He started, he collapsed, he threw up, he collapsed again, he threw up - all the way to the finish line, but he finished,'' said Romney's cousin, Robert Richards of Berthoud. Romney is a finisher, a closer, no doubt about it. But these Olympics are only the beginning for a man who could become a major player on the national political stage depending on what happens during the 17 days of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. Past perfect Born into a world of privilege, power and influence. Nestled in a large and loving family where faith was a cornerstone. Ingrained, from the cradle, with the notion of public service. Educated at Harvard. Blessed with good looks, charm, devastating charisma, ambition, intellect - and vision. Though Romney is Republican and conservative, there are striking similarities between him and the Kennedy legacy and mystique. Romney, a longtime Massachusetts resident before taking over the Olympics, had the temerity to run against a Kennedy (Edward) - and he almost won. Romney was born and raised in Michigan, where his father, George, was head of American Motors Corp., a three-term Republican governor and, for a while, a
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Archives : The Rocky Mountain News

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promising presidential candidate. His mother unsuccessfully ran for one of Michigan's Senate seats. His middle name, Mitt, comes from a cousin who played for the Chicago Bears. His first name, Willard, was bestowed in honor of his father's friend - Willard Marriott, founder of the hotel chain. Before taking over the Olympics, Romney had spent only four years in Utah, at Brigham Young University, where he graduated at the top of his class with a degree in business. From there, he embarked on a two-year Mormon mission to France, where he found it harder to sell his faith to the Catholic French than, as he would discover decades later, to sell Olympic sponsorships to U.S. companies after the bribery scandal. While in France, he nearly was killed in a hit-and-run accident. But he survived and came back to the United States to marry the only woman he ever seriously dated, his high school sweetheart, whom he had met years earlier when he was a naughty boy throwing rocks at her horse. In only three years at Harvard, he earned two degrees, in law and business management. After college, he was snapped up by Bain & Co., a Boston consulting firm. In 1984, he started Bain Capital - a venture capital firm that manages billions for high-dollar firms, institutions and universities. With his financial future assured, he turned to his next challenge - politics. On the surface, his decision to run against Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1994 seems ludicrous. But he came close to winning - so close, in fact, that Democrats seriously were scared that Kennedy's almost five-decade stint in office was about to end. But Romney received a harsh lesson in Politics 101. Unable to dig up dirt to smear Romney's squeaky-clean character, Kennedy's people finally found something they could use. Bain Capital advised one of its companies, Ampad, an office supply company in Indiana, to lower union workers' pay to match the rest of its employees. That sparked a strike. Even though Romney had taken a leave of absence from Bain, Kennedy charged that Romney was responsible for the fight, and he ran an attack ad featuring a pregnant Ampad employee asking viewers why Romney, who is worth millions, wanted to cut her salary to $5.15 an hour. ``Usually, the Republicans send a sacrificial lamb in here against Kennedy,'' said Wayne Woodlief, political columnist for the Boston Herald. ``But I thought if anyone could make a good run against Kennedy, Romney could - good bloodlines, sophisticated, smart, intelligent, nice wife and good-looking himself. But in the end, I think he was a little too naive to make a good run against Kennedy. He fought a clean fight, he refused to fling mud, or play dirty tricks or use Chappaquiddick - and that probably put him at a disadvantage. He came out looking like a good, decent man who got chewed up by the Kennedy machine.'' Even so, Romney, a rookie Republican, received an astounding 40 percent of the vote in the Kennedy stronghold of Massachusetts. Five years later, Utah leaders came knocking, looking for a squeaky-clean, honest-toa-fault savior to cleanse and redeem their tarnished Games. Tough decision; tough time The decision to take over the Salt Lake Olympics wasn't easy. It was made at what might have been the hardest time of Mitt and Ann Romney's 32 years together. In fall 1998, Ann Romney began experiencing pain and fatigue, numbness in her right leg and dizziness. ``I'd had an attack the year before, but we didn't know it was MS,'' Ann Romney said. It was terrifying for both of them. ``I frankly would have rather died rather than be the way I was,'' she said. ``At the time, I wished I had cancer instead of this, something more tangible. We didn't know what was in store for me. This would take bits and pieces of you. You felt like you were going to die, but you knew the disease could go into remission at any moment. ``Mitt is very, very high-energy, and I used to be that way. We had this major shift, where he's going 100 mph and now I'm going zero. I don't have the energy to go out at night. Mitt says, `Fine. We'll stay home. I don't care what you're like. I'll take you in a wheelchair, just don't give up.' '' She encouraged him to take over the Olympics - ``It wasn't even a question,'' she said - and the move to Utah helped her condition, with fresh air, horseback riding and fewer responsibilities. Their deep relationship endured. Think of Sleepless in Seattle and An Affair to Remember and Casablanca. Think of the passion, the romance, the love, the destiny involved. Romance? When they were dating, Romney once set up dinner, complete with white linen tablecloth, in the middle of an interstate median. He was in the delivery room for the birth of every one of their five children. On the weekends, when he can, the couple take Top Gun and Missy, their Missouri Fox trotters, and go riding in the Wasatch Mountains, where he sings to her in the crystal mountain air - religious hymns, opera arias, Western songs, whatever comes
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from his heart. He's a grandfather, with the waist of a 25-year-old, and she still notices. ``He's more casual working here, he wears jeans and cowboy boots when we go into the mountains, but he looks absolutely fantastic in a suit; he wore suits for our whole marriage,'' she said. ``He just looks so good in clothes, he's so fit.'' She, in turn has stood by him, from campaigning for him in Massachusetts to supporting his decisions when he was stake president of their church in Boston and had to deal with traumatic situations like divorce and dishonesty. ``I think his faith is fundamentally important to him,'' said John Wright, a Boston neighbor and fellow Mormon who has known the Romneys for more than 30 years. ``It's formed his life philosophy and basic set of moral values. On the other hand, he's not someone who carries his religion on his coat sleeve. I think he has been able to bridge the gap between the Mormon and non-Mormon communities, in part because he's been successful in many non-Mormon walks of life.'' Becoming a Utah legend Charges of these being the Mormon Olympics make Romney bristle. ``The issue in his mind, I think, has been how to balance them so they have the proper balance in a setting which has both of them,'' Wright said. But there is no doubt that Romney will be hugely popular with every Utahn, if these Olympics are pulled off successfully and the state gains the reputation and recognition, both nationally and internationally, that it craves. But what's next for him, once the flame has been doused at the Closing Ceremony? For much of his tenure at Salt Lake City, Romney has put off questions about his political prospects or aspirations, saying he hasn't had time to think that far ahead. But his wife and his friends expect he'll be drawn into the political arena, possibly as a Senate candidate or a replacement for Republican Utah governor Mike Leavitt. Romney announced late last summer that he won't be returning to Bain Capital. He has been grilled and queried on everything by the Utah press - from his taste in books to his views on abortion - and it's doubtful either Billy Payne or Peter Ueberroth, the heads of the Olympics in Atlanta and Los Angeles, respectively, ever faced such questions. But for now, for the next 17 days, and even through the Paralympics that will follow, Romney wants to make sure that the Games - for the athletes, for the spectators, for everyone - are everything they should be. INFOBOX Mitt Romney AGE: 53. POSITION: President of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. DEGREES: Bachelor of Arts, Business, highest honors, Brigham Young University (1971). Master of Business Administration, Harvard Business School (1975). Juris Doctorate, cum laude, Harvard Law School (1975). FAMILY: Wife Ann; five children; five grandchildren. HE DRIVES . . .: A new Chevy Tahoe, because General Motors Corp. is an Olympic sponsor. But most of the time, he drives his 1989 black Chevy pickup. HE EATS . . .: He can afford Rockefeller, but his tastes are more Al Bundy: hamburgers and meatloaf. Typical meals: bagel for breakfast, burrito for lunch, hamburger for dinner. HE WEARS . . .: Casual clothes these days. But his closet is full of suits, dress shirts and suspenders from his days in the world of finance. HE WHAT??!! . . . : To get on the Today show with Katie Couric, he went down the Olympic bobsled track about 20 times on a skeleton sled, so cameras could catch every turn. In skeleton, the rider lies headfirst on what is basically a cookie sheet on skids and reaches speeds of up to 80 mph, the chin inches from the ice. LIB3

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