Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mitt is Impressive: Part Two

I was kind of relieved Mitt didn't mention me by name tonight when he thanked his team. It would have been overwhelming to have all those reporters calling, and intimidating to have all those new readers. Still, I'm glad the voters in Florida had my input.

Just in case the folks in the upcoming caucus states need more convincing, I have additional opining to do.

Mitt may be a gazillionaire, but he's not out of touch with regular life. In fact he may know more of the nitty-gritty than most of us.

His father, George, was born in Mexico, raised in humble circumstances and never graduated from college. He apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter and sold aluminum paint before beginning a career that brought him to the head of American Motors and then the governorship of Michigan. A self-made man, by the time Mitt was a teenager George was able to give his family the best of everything.

Mitt grew up in a ritzy neighborhood and attended private schools. When he got married at age 22, he didn't worry about getting a student loan or paying the pediatrician—but he knew and served people who did.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a lay ministry. That means that everyone in the congregation has a responsibility to serve as a teacher, a youth leader, Relief Society president (our women's charitable organization) organist, blood drive coordinator, whatever.

The Bishop of the ward (congregation) prayerfully chooses people to serve in various capacities for a period of time (usually a couple of years) and calls (asks) them. I've been rotated through dozens of callings, from luncheon chairman, to nursery leader, to girl's camp director to newsletter editor. We get advice from people who have had the calling before us, study the church handbooks, pray for divine help, and learn on the job. It's a fabulous opportunity to build skills and confidence.

From the time they were married, Mitt and Ann Romney served in their ward like everyone else. When Mitt was thirty-four, the father of five young sons and just starting a highly demanding career, he was asked to be Mormon bishop. The fact that he was called speaks of his character and devotion to God. A bishop must be dependable, honest, trustworthy, true to his wife and generous with his time. He also needs a conviction that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and be willing to follow His teachings.

Being a bishop is a full-time job, without pay. Bishops visit and attend to the needs of single moms, widows, the poor, sick and elderly, and administer the church's social welfare program. They listen to problems and counsel members on everything imaginable: marriage, divorce, abortion, adoption, addiction, unemployment and even business disputes. The bishop directs staffing of ward organizations, supervises youth programs, attends activities, oversees finances, records, and building maintenance, teaches, conducts meetings, and trains others in their duties. Plus, he is the spiritual leader, the confessor and confidant, helping his flock change their ways and live Christ-like lives. A bishop does all this, but still keeps his full-time job and tries to be a devoted husband and father. It's tough, and totally impressive.

In Mitt's Boston ward he confronted anti-Mormon sentiment and worked to soothe relations in the community. He directed an outreach program to Hispanic, Portuguese and Southeast Asian converts, including Cambodian and Laotian refugees whose teenagers were joining the church in droves. “I had no idea people lived this way,” he told a counselor, after visiting poverty-stricken immigrants. When kids from his ward became involved with gangs, he went into those neighborhoods regularly, offering support and friendship. Parents came to him for advice.

He was highly motivated and “hands-on,” said a member of his ward. "If somebody’s roof leaked, Bishop Romney would show up with a ladder to fix it. I remember him picking butternut squash and yanking weeds on the church’s communal farm." He distributed that food to ward members in need. The LDS church has an employment program, and Mitt coordinated training and job interviews for people wanting to hire and be hired.

After a few years as bishop he was called as Boston's Stake President overseeing a region similar to a Roman Catholic diocese. That meant he was the clergyman, organization man and defender of the faith over several wards during a period of rapid growth.

Service on school boards or city councils, through charities or churches, benefits the whole community. Time spent with troubled kids (or keeping good kids from getting in trouble,) advising out-of-work parents, helping a couple adopt a baby—these qualify as civic contributions. Mitt Romney has been involved in public service his whole life.

Thirteen years of church leadership gave him vast experience with social, economic and moral dilemmas. He is sometimes seen as a flip-flopper because he doesn't express his beliefs in unequivocal soundbites. A person of compassion might have thoughtful reasons to see both sides of an issue. Here are three situations I know Mitt Romney faced:
  • A young girl close to his family had an illegal abortion, and died because of it.
  • A pregnant woman in his congregation had a life-threatening blood clot and was advised by one doctor to abort the baby to save her life. Another doctor said she didn't need the abortion, that both mother and baby could be saved.
  • A married man he served with in the church confided that he was gay.
"A man who views the world at fifty the same way he did at twenty
has wasted thirty years of his life."
—Muhammad Ali

Mitt and Ann have raised five sons who carry on the Romney tradition. Having money does not guarantee character. (Think of the ultra-rich kids we see on TV and in the tabloids, the drug-addicted kids who are infamous for their bad behavior, adultery, broken families, and prison sentences.) Obviously the Romney's gave their children more than money could buy. It's short-sighted to look at money as their only inheritance.

Like every family, the Romneys have faced hardship: Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, and more recently fought a battle with breast cancer. She credits her husband’s unwavering care and devotion in helping her through these ordeals.

I'm convinced that Mitt Romney is, and always has been a great man. He has balanced his life well, with generous service to God, family and community. I'm impressed.

There's even more to come ...


The Grandmother Here said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Grammy T. said...

Oma, I have to read all of your Mitt's, very good! You have really investigated your subject.
Grammy T.

Grandma Shelley said...

Loving these posts on Mitt. You need to submit them to the newspaper!

mama jo said...

these are great...i agree...publish them...and now that YOU are know what mitt went through....haha...congrats, like daughter, like mother...

Susan Adcox said...

Like you, I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I am impressed by Mitt Romney and also by Jon Huntsman.