Editor's Note: It was 1994 the first time I heard my uncle talk about his friend in Massachusetts who was running for Senate. I remember my first thought at the time was, “My uncle knows a Democrat?” Who else would run for Senate in Massachusetts? I was corrected quickly. A few years later I began to hear about my uncle's old friend and mission associate again when that friend was picked to run the Salt Lake Olympics Committee, and then, when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. To hear my uncle speak of him, his friend was impeccable, courageous, and a dynamic leader. We were southern Virginians who watched the political events of Massachusetts closely. I was intrigued. In 2007, I sat quietly by and watched as my uncle and my father tirelessly worked for Mitt Romney's fledgling campaign. And on April 10, 2012, minutes after we received the word that Former Senator Rick Santorum had dropped out of the race, my father called me. “My little brother was right. Mitt Romney is going to be the President of the United States. He's been saying it for years, and he was right.”
Dane C. McBride, a physician who is the senior partner of the Asthma and Allergy Center of Roanoke and Lynchburg, is an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Virginia Medical School and Vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees of Southern Virginia University, in Buena Vista, Virginia. He and Michael Bush, also a former French Missionary friend and now a faculty member of Brigham Young University, co-founded the blog, www.MittTheMan.com, to highlight the personal, human side of Mitt Romney with warm, personal anecdotes that run counter to in the “stiff, impersonal” narrative often promoted in the general media. McBride’s story below is modified for Meridian from an Op-ed that first appeared in the Lynchburg News and Advance, May 6, 2012.
I first met Mitt Romney in October 1966, in Rouen, France, at a Zone training meeting for missionaries who served in Normandy and Brittany.
Romney was gregarious, obviously bright and seemed more on top of things than normally expected of someone who had arrived less than 14 weeks earlier. The first indication I had was that he spoke better French than others who had arrived that summer. Our common experience of growing up in the East was a source of connection that brought us together. Most of the others were from the western United States or Canada, places where the concentration of Mormons was often higher, but we had been the only Mormons in our respective high schools. We also had fathers who had stood out in their respective professions and in service to their communities.
It was not until the early spring of 1968 that Mitt and I had the opportunity to develop a deep and lasting friendship that grew from living and working together as missionaries in Southwestern France. “Mai ’68,” as it was known in France, brought historic strikes and rioting that nearly toppled the French government, while the U.S. experienced the tragedies that were the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. With little time to reflect on those world events, we went about the Bordeaux Zone reassuring, teaching, training, motivating and uplifting our young fellow missionaries as well as the local members of the Church in Southwestern France.
It was through those challenges that my admiration for Mitt grew, as I witnessed the great compassion he had for those around him. These were young men and women who were justifiably somewhat frightened, and certainly insecure in the face of rioting in the streets, and multiple strikes that crippled electric service, postal service and most other municipal services. He urged, convincingly, the exercise of faith, hope and determination to see things through. Receiving no letters from home meant that money ran out quickly, so he also worked with our leaders in Paris to find the means to get through that time of national upheaval.
Later, while working together, we read the book "Think and Grow Rich!" by Napoleon Hill. Elder Howard W. Hunter, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, recommended that we use those concepts of positive thinking to overcome doubt and discouragement so we could perform at a higher level. We applied the concepts 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!
I also saw him help complete the change of harsh feelings our landlord and his wife had towards Americans in general, and Mormons in particular. In the end, they became almost surrogate parents, insisting that we call them “Mama and Papa” Castagnone, instead of “monsieur” and “madame.” I saw them weep when he was transferred to the mission headquarters in Paris, where he was elevated to the position of Assistant to the Mission President.
Tragedy struck only weeks later. Mitt was driving Mission President H. Duane Anderson and his wife, Leola, back to Paris, accompanied by three other passengers, when another vehicle rounded the bend ahead at full speed and swerved into their lane, hitting them head on. Everyone was injured, but Sister Anderson was killed. Mitt was bloody and unconscious when the police arrived. The gendarme prematurely pronounced him dead at the scene. The mission president returned home for his wife’s funeral and several weeks of specialized medical care.
From that point forward, I watched Mitt’s stature grow and his leadership abilities develop. Despite falling morale and stagnating efforts, Mitt analyzed the situation and worked with his fellow leaders, including companion Assistants Joel McKinnon and then Bill Ryan, to develop a plan for success. With great energy, they worked to raise the confidence, faith and performance of the missionaries. Instead of 1968 becoming the worst record in many years, the missionaries achieved greater success than had been seen in a long time. Looking back, I can see that this was just the first of what would be many remarkable “turnarounds” for which Mitt is now well known.
Mitt returned home from his 2½ years in France on Christmas Eve that same year and proposed to his high school sweetheart, Ann Davies, (keeping a “Day 1 Promise!”) during the drive from the airport. Ann had been converted to the Church, independent of Mitt, while he was on his mission. After participating in each other’s weddings, we pursued (with another mission buddy, Bill Ryan) a classic “commission only” summer sales endeavor in Detroit. Mitt’s fairness, honesty and business integrity became evident in ways never seen during unpaid missionary service.
While at BYU, my new bride and I lived for a time in the same small apartment building as Mitt and Ann. The frugal life of typical student couples often required that dinner result in a pooling of refrigerator resources: “We’ve got hamburger and tomatoes.