The Ascent of Ann Romney

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Cover Photograph by Ben Baker / Redux

With Ann Romney, what you see is what you get, except when it’s not. The would-be First Lady is indeed a picture-perfect country-club Republican woman, bright and attractive at 63, with a rich, handsome husband and five thriving sons, a romper room of grandchildren, multiple houses, a stable of horses and — in the slightly tone-deaf words of her ambitious spouse — “a couple of Cadillacs.” As such, she makes a tempting target for liberal critics who look at her pedigree and equestrian pastime and paint her as hopelessly privileged and out of touch, a woman who — in the condescending words for which Democratic lobbyist Hilary Rosen later apologized — “never worked a day in her life.”

But no matter what political ad makers might want us to believe, no one can be summed up in a single image or cartoon. This slice of New England’s upper crust is two generations removed from the grim life of a Welsh coal miner. Seemingly so Establishment, she in fact has a countercultural streak: in the era of free love and changing mores, she defied her parents by joining the conservative Mormon Church and getting married at 19. Later, she often found herself among what were then called liberated women in liberal Cambridge, Mass., and said she “felt disparaged” for her decision to be a stay-at-home mom. “I could respect their choices,” she recalled in a recent television interview. “They needed to respect mine.” In other words, Romney’s life is not the creation of some Stepford-wife assembly line turning out ladies in pearls by the hundred. It has been deliberately shaped to reflect her views about the power of free enterprise to improve lives and the importance of a strong family unit. She is who she is by conviction, not by default.

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And she has experienced a ration of struggle along with the cotillions and cookie baking and tennis dates. Hers arrived much as it does for hundreds of thousands of other Americans, in the form of numbness, weakness, fatigue, stumbling: classic symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a mysterious disease that causes one’s immune system to wage war on the central nervous system. While MS is rarely fatal, it can cripple, confuse or blind. For reasons no one understands, the disease often goes into remission for long periods — even indefinitely. But when it does not, it can be a grim business indeed. At least a quarter of the patients of the late Jack Kevorkian, the suicide doctor, went to him for relief from MS.

(MORE: The Ticket: Romney and Ryan Go to Tampa)

Since her diagnosis and initial harrowing flare-up in 1998, Romney’s symptoms have often been dormant, but the stress of the presidential campaign has brought on at least one relapse. “Just a little bitty one,” as she described it to NBC News. “But it scared me” — enough to limit her role as one of Mitt Romney’s most effective promoters, lest exhaustion exacerbate her illness. Before the disease, “I could do anything,” she explained to a group of her husband’s supporters at a fundraiser in Orlando last year. “Everything was good and wonderful.” Since then, the story, like most life stories, has been more complex.

(PHOTOS:  Ann Romney’s Campaign Trail Style)

Ann Romney’s story starts with her grandfather David Davies, who first went down into the mines of Wales at the ripe old age of 6. By the time he escaped to Detroit in 1929, he had black lung and had been maimed by a runaway coal car. It was hard, no doubt, to get started in the U.S. during the Great Depression, but no harder than what he was used to. His teenage son Edward grew up whip-smart, eventually becoming an inventor with a good head for business who then became a prosperous manufacturer. And so it was that beautiful Ann Davies, granddaughter of a poor Welsh immigrant, attended the posh Kingswood School for girls. At the senior prom in 1965 she promised to marry a tall boy from the all-male Cranbrook School. Willard Mitt Romney was the son of the governor of Michigan. Her parents said she was too young, but when Mitt returned to the U.S. from his years of Mormon missionary work in France, that promise was kept. President Nixon sent warm wishes to the newlyweds, and future President Ford was a guest at the wedding.

Eventually settling in the prosperous Boston suburb of Belmont, Ann Romney spent the next three decades raising her sons, volunteering in the community and honing her formidable tennis game. “A mother, homemaker, very active in her church, school. She used to go and volunteer, serve Thanksgiving dinners to the homeless in town, that sort of thing,” recalls a friend and neighbor, Alyce Morrissey. “Very active, very friendly lady, very outgoing.”

(MORE: Despite Headwinds, Obama Campaign Remains Confident)

Meanwhile, her husband was a vertical blur in the booming world of Boston business consultants. A turning point came, as Ann tells it, with the death of Edward Davies, who urged his daughter from his deathbed to squeeze everything possible out of life. She in turn told Mitt that he must not defer his dream of a political career. He pulled the covers over his head and said, “Don’t think about it,” she later told interviewers, but the upshot was a Senate campaign against the legendary Senator Edward Kennedy in 1994. “People think Mitt’s such a strong person, but I run the show,” she once said laughingly to a reporter from the Boston Herald.

Ann did Mitt no favors in that first campaign with her blithe interview in the Boston Globe, in which she spoke of selling off stock to pay the bills during college as if it were a brush with poverty. Her statement that she and her husband had not quarreled since they were teenagers dropped jaws all over the Bay State. “You couldn’t pay me to do this again,” she said after it was over.

Three years later, her nest was almost empty. The youngest Romney son, Craig, was a couple of years away from graduation at the private Belmont Hill School. Vague symptoms — numbness, tingling — worsened to the point that her brother, a doctor, urged Ann to see a neurologist. By early 1999, she was nearly bedridden and staring at life in a wheelchair. “I was at such a scared time in my life,” she told the audience in Orlando. “The only way I can describe it — do you know when you have the flu and you just can’t get out of bed? That’s how I felt all the time … That’s what I was living with, in addition to my right leg, my whole right side, basically not working.”

(PHOTOSThe Rich History of Mitt Romney)

In her telling, that’s when her husband told her what she needed to hear: “He said to me, ‘I don’t care how sick you are. I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair. I don’t care if I never eat another dinner in my life. I can eat cereal and toast and be just fine. As long as we’re together, everything will be O.K.’ I needed that at that moment.” When Ann tells the story on the campaign trail, she adds a kicker to tie this private moment to Mitt’s campaign promise to turn America around. “That was the turnaround in my life that gave me the hope to go on.”

Romney credits her doctor’s aggressive treatment and the therapeutic effects of horseback riding as reasons for the “miraculous” recovery of much of her strength. But it’s the nature of the disease that she can’t know when she might get worse. She has tried alternative therapies, like reflexology and acupuncture, but through a spokesman she declined to discuss whether she is taking any of the conventional medicines that have been approved for MS in the years since she was diagnosed.

MS drug therapy is a touchy subject in countries around the world because the medicines are extremely expensive — starting above $3,000 per month and rising steeply for drugs that must be infused intravenously. And they only slow the disease; they don’t cure it. As a result, access is uneven. Single-payer systems, like Britain’s National Health Service, have been resistant to covering the treatments, and some U.S. insurers put a lifetime cap on the amount that patients can spend on the drugs. In a 2011 interview with Parade, Romney advised her fellow MS patients “to get on medications because the medications now are so effective in reducing symptoms.” A more explicit discussion could entangle her in the thorny debate over health care spending.

(MORE: Herman Cain Isn’t Looking for a Job from Romney, but He Has a Few Pointers)

Her inability to be a constant presence on the campaign costs her husband one of his most effective advocates. Aides say Ann is Mitt’s closest adviser, and he seems more relaxed on the stump when she is around. She stood at his side, granddaughter Chloe in tow, during Paul Ryan’s debut appearance in Norfolk, Va., and again at a Ryan “homecoming” event in Wisconsin. At a NASCAR institute in Mooresville, N.C., Ann delivered a rousing call to arms. “America is in trouble, and these are the two guys that are going to save it,” she said.

She also knows how to sting. Obama’s entire campaign strategy boils down to “kill Romney,” she charged in one interview, and in another she defended the decision not to release more family tax returns because “it will just give them more ammunition.”

In many ways, the Romneys seem more alike than different, but Ann points to one exception: she puts a lot of stock in intuitive judgments — the opposite of her husband’s data-driven approach to life. She had a feeling, back in 1999, that she would walk again, and sure enough, on a winter day in 2002 she jogged slowly and haltingly over the longest quarter-mile of her life, carrying the Olympic torch as part of the relay to Salt Lake City. “I had my husband beside me and I had my children helping me hold — my right arm was still pretty weak — helping me to hold up the torch,” she recalls.

It’s that intuition that keeps her going now. “I have the same voice, same intuition,” she continues, about her husband’s race for the White House. And it is telling her that “Mitt is going to save America.”

MORE: Ron Paul in Tampa: A GOP Outsider’s Last Hurrah

— With reporting by Alex Altman and Elizabeth Dias / Washington

TIME’s new book, The Essential Voters Guide, offers a revealing look into the 2012 presidential campaign. Learn about the hot-button issues and get to know the candidates and their families. Get your ringside seat to the election here

133 comments
Dan Berry
Dan Berry

It still is Tax Returns for YOU PEOPLE.

OBX47
OBX47

I am not thrilled with Mrs. Romney and I don't think many middle class women are either.  I an senior, a registered independent  voter and a woman. I worked as a teacher, while raising two children. I began working when I was sixteen and stopped when I was 62.  While it is sad when anyone is diagnosed with a serious illness, Mrs. Romney fights her battle knowing she has the best medical care, any mechanical devices she may need(heard Mitt say they were at first thinking of installing an elevator; an elevator,no less!) and household help (which she probably had anyway).  And yet her husband and his Party would take medical care from other people who are ill (Medicaid and Medicare) in order to give wealthy Americans and big business additional tax cuts. I know so many people who faced worse with so much less.  I do not see Mrs. Romney as heroic; she is just lucky to have the best of everything while battling her disease.  Many people battle also, but not with Mrs. Romney's advantages.  TV commentators keep saying Ann is Mitt's secret weapon.  Don't think so; she is just another reminder of how much better off these people are and how little they care about others. Republicans only care for the rich.

amjun
amjun

Why does everyone keep on saying she did a grand job raising children? Give me $50 million and I'll raise 50 children and never complain. 

Debbie Hanrahan
Debbie Hanrahan

I'm sorry Ann has had cancer and MS but I don't see her as a strong representative of women (unless from the 1950's) and I don't see her as a First Lady.  Lots of women have had cancer or MS, raised children, and worked outside the home.  What happens and how often does Ann have flairs?  Who takes over her duties.  She has 5 sons so who is her stand in?  Official state dinners and Ann has a flair?  The stress alone would bring on flairs.  I feel for her but the reality and facts are the woman is not in line with the majority of women today and her health would be a concern.

Andrea
Andrea

In the past Mitt has taken over her duties.  He shops, cooks, etc., and even performed these duties while running the Olympics. This is not news.  

I suspect the Romneys will manage just fine in the White House.  They are highly competent and seem to manage quite well as a family unit.

ibsteve2u
ibsteve2u

 How could he have time to do all that AND do his taxes?  Is all kinds of people trying to figure out his taxes - unsuccessfully, in large part, because the man's ability avoid them approaches...genius.

https://www.propublica.org/art...

I can't decide whether he offshores his tax preparation, too, or is an idiot savant.

Andrea
Andrea

Good for you, Ann.  Define yourself.  Most here will define you through their partisan filters.  

Let's just hope that when they claim to speak for all women, they remember that they don't speak for you.  Or for me.

alanphillips
alanphillips

Much speculation is currently underway about the GOP's mystery speaker at the convention. Even Dick Morris is advocating that Ann Romney needs to do well. As a committee of one I predict that Ann Romney will do extremely well and inspire millions of previously despairing Americans who have lost jobs, income, and hope for a better future. This is a truly courageous first lady to be who has raised great sons and fought a debilitating disease daily. She will provide to all who hear her words of hope and courage to expect a brighter day.. She will be the pleasant inspiring surprise of the entire convention. Godspeed Ann.

Alan G Phillips

Bloomington IL

Mary
Mary

How in the world can 'you' be hungry, I just ate.

EternalHopeFaithCharity
EternalHopeFaithCharity

Dear Mrs Romney,

As an international with the privilege of residency I apologize for the inability of your critics to understand the complexity of being "woman".  Whilst its fair to say that Mrs Clinton has been by far my favourite first lady, politician and one of those wonderful women of the world to look up to it would be unfair and unjust to judge you against her.

For me I see you taking a different path in life with the devotion of family and home. I read some of the surly comments here and could not help but wonder if these people in this blog are more animal than human. If we judged them based on their comments we would believe them capable of eating their own flesh and blood alive. (Americans appear to not love each other terribly well)

As a mother of three and a balancing career woman I have trodden a different path to yourself. However, I understand that it is quite a task to raise children and you did so with five. More importantly, I also understand your husband would not have advanced so well in his career had you not been the solid force for which would cushion his successful future. Since when is it "a-shame" to be successful? If we have no successful citizens with different approaches we have nothing to aspire toward greater evolution and being...

Be strong Mrs Romney and know that you do represent a choice for woman. As well, those who know what is involved to raise a successful family, know what great sacrifices you have made and consider that one attribute a great strength of loyalty and dedication. Always remember, it is the choices that are too part of the democracy. Woman still have choices and that is what is important in the grand scheme of things - too many have paved the way for this freedom to be diminished in any way by defaming the traditional role that some woman choose to take as their life path.

Critics leave the definition of "women" alone to each individual woman and back-off our work is not done yet. Mrs Romney has something to offer if you choose to see her real credentials - matriarch! Now apologize to your own mothers, grandmothers and others for their invalidation please!

Nicolas1963
Nicolas1963

In summary: she never worked for a living! So you are going to vote for somebody because his wife is a nice person?

Penobscot11
Penobscot11

Are you going to vote for someone because he pretends to be a nice guy (Obama)? At least Ann seems genuine. Obama is an actor. 

ChowT
ChowT

Lady Ann wants to lord over 'you people'.

Cane Pazzo
Cane Pazzo

“People think Mitt’s such a strong person, but I run the show,” she once said laughingly to a reporter from the Boston Herald.That pretty much sums up the guy who wants to be president.

moricone
moricone

The Journey of Cult will end soon.

Mary
Mary

Mormons same as the Moonies. Both cults.

moricone
moricone

Part of my family is Mormon cult people so I know.

Mormon Cult is one of the worst.

Do other Jesus groups believe Jesus was a polygamist with three wives like Mormons believe?

Do all other Christians also believe they can become god like Mormons?

Do all other Christians also believe "Book of Mormon," "Doctrine and Covenants," and "Pearl of Great Price" like 

Mormons ?

Do all other Christians also believe non-polygamists are banned from heaven like Mormons?

Do all other Christians also believe Baptizing the dead whoever they are like Mormons?

Answer to those is NO.

Penobscot11
Penobscot11

I'm getting tired of Obama, too. 

moricone
moricone

You meant Mitt Romney the Magic Diaper Jesus the Polygamist Cult.   lol

bobcn
bobcn

Are you really impressed when a political wife says that her husband is a super wonderful really really great guy?  What did you expect her to say?

I'd be more interested if she announced that her party was coming out for the 'therapeutic effects of horseback riding' for all MS victims (not just the rich ones). Or at least access to the medication that MS sufferers need. Sadly, what Romney wants instead is a return to the higher drug prices of the medicare 'doughnut hole' (which was reduced by the ACA).

SixSixSix
SixSixSix

What drivel for "you people." Lady Romney is not the one who will rule the land by divine right saving the white race from those colored folk, she just helps out.

Leavane
Leavane

What is your compelling fact to what you said "She just helps out"? Thanks

SixSixSix
SixSixSix

Lady Romney has said "you people" don't need to know.  And you don't. Accept your place in society, it is not for the likes of you to question your betters. Just accept their divine right to rule.

Vickio2
Vickio2

 Last night I watched Gloria Borges' 'profile' of Mitt Romney with absolute horror. She was incredibly sycophantic and 'empathetic' even when it was inappropriate. While no Romney fan, I do hope for a balanced look at a candidate's life. I was amazed that Borges let such great stuff pass, completely unchallenged. For example, when Romney got out of serving in Vietnam by moving to Paris as a Mormon missionary. Then Borges allowed him to 'dig deep' and describe his feelings of 'rejection' when sane French householders repeatedly kicked him to the curb. Worst of all, she allowed his wife to describe how when she knew he was leaving for France, she threw herself prostrate on the floor and could not be comforted. Right..... she must have been so upset that he would be faced with all those baguettes and closed doors on the beautiful streets of Paris before he could return home bilingual and in one piece. They have the gall to present that as a life challenge? As a positive thing? Even a tragic family moment? When thousands of young people without privilege were being shipped off to Vietnam en masse and slaughtered? When their families had real reason to grieve? There is no way that Mitt and Ann Romney can connect with ordinary Americans because this is what they think. And it was ghastly to watch Borges' facial contortions as she 'felt their pain' -- I will never trust her judgment or insight ever again.

Penobscot11
Penobscot11

Hey Sickio2. The media tosses Obama underhand softballs for 6 years and you're complaining about one interview with Ann. Did you volunteer in Vietnam? Then shut the hell up. You liberal hypocrite. 

Andrea
Andrea

That was a typical interview.  What do you think Obama gets asked?  Favorite flavor.

Vickio2
Vickio2

I was especially sickened since I too am a working journalist. That stuff raises a lot of questions. There was no follow up, not even a look of surprise - just adoration. If they want a love-in, they can (and do) pay for their own. CNN should be above that.

Andrea
Andrea

I found that his answers did not leave a lot of room for further inquiry.  He's pretty succinct and focused.  

In fact, I was struck by how certain he was in his responses.  Very unusual.   He's not one to go on and one and elaborate in great detail.

I have to also say that I'm glad not to have to listen to his opinions on everything under the sun.  Honestly, I don't care.  I am interested in his family but only up to a point.  I'm most interested in his resume and track record.

bobcn
bobcn

Romney's avoidance of service in Vietnam, while at the same time hypocritically supporting the war, is typical of the modern republican politician.  What's truly vile is his active participation in demonstrations IN FAVOR of the draft that he dodged.

Indy2
Indy2

Now, bobcn - - - Do not blame Romney, it is his ancestory that led him to avoid service. After 5 generations, no Romney has served "HONORABLY".  Charles Henry Wilcken, WMR's great great grandfather was in the U.S. Army but deserted to the mormon's militia - Nauvoo Legion and gave them information on the U.S. Army's position and standing during the Utah War. I believe this is called "treason"; and punishable then by death?

Mary
Mary

Not many (any?) Veitnam vets got to spend their time, during the war, in a castle in France.

Must be nice to be a rich man's son.

MaryOK
MaryOK

It's typical of Democratic politicians too.

brcbrwrb
brcbrwrb

um did you people forget that Clinton was not in the military either? 

sam_bone
sam_bone

 Like John Kerry. Whoops, he was in Vietnam.

Ron Helton
Ron Helton

A vote for Obama or Romney is just a vote for more wars.

Watch and learn.

Obama will lure us into a war with Syria.

Romney has already given the green light to Israel to attack Iran, by saying that we would back their play.

Both candidates are beating the war drums.

Vote for an independent or libertarian.  Stop the nonsense.