Ann Romney: an enigmatic first lady-in-waiting (+video)
Ann Romney can seem at turns warmly gracious and wholly out of touch. But she's tough – a steel forged by her deep love for her family and her husband – and that should be on full display Tuesday night as she addresses the Republican National Convention.
Don’t underestimate Ann Romney.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Republican Convention 2012
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The basic facts of Mrs. Romney’s life – a wealthy childhood; years as a stay-at-home mother to five sons in lieu of a career; a passionate interest in the expensive sport of dressage horseback riding – can convey an impression that those who know her say is at odds with the reality.
The relatively conventional, privileged veneer masks a steel determination, say friends and acquaintances. And she has frequently defied expectations, first by opting as a teenager to convert to the Mormon faith, then forgoing a career and choosing a large family, against the wishes of her parents and at a time and place when many women of her generation were entering the workforce. She fought back from a devastating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in the late 1990s to a point, now, where she seems the picture of health and has managed to keep the disease in remission.
“She has a very strong backbone,” says Margaret Wheelwright, a close friend of Romney who was a neighbor and fellow church member in Belmont, Mass., for about 20 years, before she moved to Hawaii with her husband, president of Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus. “When she decides something, she goes for it all the way.”
Tuesday night, she will speak to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., tasked with showing that her husband is more than the cardboard cutout he can sometimes appear to be on the campaign trail. Blonde and attractive, she is a familiar presence at Mitt Romney’s side, but she can also be a bit of an enigma.
She’s gracious and maternal, happy to share recipes and talk about her children and grandchildren. But she can also come across as elitist and out of touch with the average American – even more than her husband – and her defenses flare up when she believes she or her family is under attack.
Unlike some political marriages, in which spouses offer teasing and even unflattering tidbits to reporters to humanize their home life (Michelle Obama did this so much she was criticized for “emasculating” her husband), the Romneys have famously claimed never to have fought.
Mr. Romney is adoring of Mrs. Romney and has said she helps anchor him. He was the first Massachusetts governor to request that his wife be included in his official portrait (in a picture on his desk). Mrs. Romney believes her husband can save America. And she accepts her own position as an irreplaceable muse.
"We are partners, true partners in every sense of the way," Mrs. Romney said in a CBS News interview recently. "I don't think he could do it without me. I don't believe he could. I couldn't obviously be here without him, either.”
Ann grew up in the same sheltered Michigan town that Mitt did, and attended the private Kingswood School – the sister school to Mitt’s Cranbrook School. Ann was 15 when she met Mitt (she is two years younger than he), and they soon fell in love.
Ann was the daughter of a self-made Welsh businessman (also the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., mayor) who had grown up in a coal-mining family and disdained organized religion. But at age 17, while Mitt was serving his 2-1/2 years of missionary service in France, she decided to convert to Mormonism, and then enrolled at Brigham Young University. Mitt's father, the governor of Michigan at the time, baptized her.
Ann has said repeatedly that her conversion had little to do with dating Mitt, and more to do with her own spiritual quest. Her two brothers later converted as well, as did her mother, shortly before her death in 1993.