Would-be First Lady is a First-Rate Lady

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By Jeanette W. Bennett, Photos by Kenneth Linge

Ann Romney

Ann Romney came to BYU just months after joining the LDS Church. “Safe” and “peaceful” are words she chooses to describe Provo, where she gave birth to their first son, Tagg, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in French. At age 59, she has a full life of political and Olympic memories, grandchildren, horses and philanthropy.

Ann Romney is not just “the wife that Mitt built.” She has opinions, community board positions and horses all her own.

But for 12 months, Ann put the campaign before the horse and traveled around the country giving speeches nearly every day at the side of her Republican husband. After the couple bowed out of the presidential race in February, Ann got some much-needed sleep (12 glorious hours per night for a time), and now she’s again “off to the races” — this time with her thoroughbreds.

Although the Oval Office was the Romneys’ goal, Ann is now settled in an oval arena where she has traded Gallup polls for galloping. And she couldn’t be happier.

At age 59, Ann has learned that peaceful is tied to productive, and with her five sons now fathers, her busy “nest” is full of four-legged creatures. To say she likes horses is to say Mitt kinda wanted to be president. Ann loves her horses — she knows their personalities and their pain. And they have helped her feel less of hers. Ten years ago, Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which took away the energy her life has always required. Her animals became her therapy, and she became their caregiver.

Ann and her spouse won’t be living in the White House (at least not within the next four years), but she recognizes the benefits of no longer having to hold her horses while she and her sons blog and brag about Mitt. The Olympic-sized businessman still has a bright political future, but Ann has returned to a “regular” life of horse training, making homemade granola and leaving Mitt in the car while she runs into the grocery store. “It’s either that or have him put a paper bag on his head so that it doesn’t take so long to go anywhere,” she laughs.

The Romneys ­— who both graduated from BYU — have a home in Utah, but Ann invited Utah Valley Magazine to her Moorpark, Calif., equestrian training facility where she spent the month of June in a rigorous training schedule for the Olympic trials.

Here is a portion of our conversation where she shares memories about their small Provo basement apartment, giving birth at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and why she’s addicted to Sudoku.

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Ann Romney was proud that she and husband Mitt didn’t gain weight during the campaign — “until the end when it was total chaos!”

Ann Romney was proud that she and husband Mitt didn’t gain weight during the campaign — “until the end when it was total chaos!”

UV: You’ve traveled the world, but I know Utah is one of your favorite places. What were your first impressions when you moved to Provo as a college student?

Ann: I had only been a member of the LDS Church for a few months, so moving to Provo was shocking to me. It seems really silly, but it felt exactly like a Happy Valley. I was used to Michigan where there were drinking parties and aggressive guys. In Provo, people were just having nice parties, and I had not been exposed to that before. It was a great culture for me, and I felt so safe — SO safe.

UV: What hot spot do you remember from your college days?

Ann: The French restaurant on the Provo-Orem hill (formerly Restaurant Roy — now Chef’s Table). We were thrilled to find a great place to eat. In 1970, there was not much in Provo. It was a small, small town. I don’t even recognize it when I go there now.

 

UV: Where did you live?

Ann: Mitt and I lived in a tiny little apartment with a cement floor. The address was 511 N. 100 West in Provo, and I’ll never forget it. We used a door for our desk. Years later our son was complaining about the price of apartments in Provo, and we said, “We know of a place that would be cheaper!” We told him to check out our old apartment. And he did! He lived there!

UV: Where did you live?

Ann: Mitt and I lived in a tiny little apartment with a cement floor. The address was 511 N. 100 West in Provo, and I’ll never forget it. We used a door for our desk. Years later our son was complaining about the price of apartments in Provo, and we said, “We know of a place that would be cheaper!” We told him to check out our old apartment. And he did! He lived there!

Ann Romney

Ten-year-old Sandrina is one of Ann’s horses that she trains in Moorpark, Calif. Ann overcame many of the dehabilitating aspects of multiple sclerosis by riding. “If you ride correctly, you ride with balance,” she says. And in life you have to be balanced.”

UV: Did you go visit him in your old apartment?

Ann: Absolutely! And everything seemed even smaller than I’d remembered it.

 

UV: What words come to mind when you think of your time in Provo?

Ann: Happy. Peaceful. Charming. Serene. Skiing. Magical.

 

UV: And like many Mormon families, you had your first baby at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo.

Ann: Yes! It was a long labor and a short delivery. When Tagg came out, it shocked me. I thought, “He looks like a monster!” Instead of reassuring us, Dr. Webster said, “Too bad. Hot dog head.” (laughing)

 

UV: But now Tagg is a handsome guy.

Ann: Yes he is.

 

UV: Do you make it back to BYU football games or other campus events?

Ann: Yes, we have loved going to the football games through the years. Good memories.

 

UV: And speaking of memories — the 2002 Olympics in Utah. Fraser Bullock in Alpine was on one of our BusinessQ covers, and he talked about how being part of The Olympics with the Romneys was the highlight of his life.

Ann: Ask anyone who was involved. Ask us. We loved it. It was unbelievable! It was such a good happy feeling.

 

UV: Obviously, the Olympic season of your life was a highlight. When you look back at your motherhood seasons, which was your favorite?

Ann: My favorite time was when they were all little. It’s the hardest phase because it’s so tiring, but if I could press a magic button and go back, I would. I loved to hear them laugh, play on the floor, giggle. That is what I really miss. I also enjoyed the teen years. There were a few rough bumps, but for the most part, the teen years were really terrific. The saddest time for me was when they started peeling off the top end. You feel like, “Oh, dear! Life will never be the same again.” And then you get to this next phase when they are all married and having children. What more could I ask for? I feel so blessed. The real measure of our success has been raising our children. All of the worldly successes are not that significant. Mitt was successful in business, but that doesn’t matter compared to raising a strong family.

Ann Romney graduating

Ann earned her diploma at the Kingswood School in Michigan and went on to BYU to pursue a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in French. Although Ann’s BYU education got interrupted when she became a mother, she took classes at the Harvard University’s Extension School and transferred the credits back to Provo.

UV: This article is running in our women’s issue, and I find women always want to talk about their passions and balance. What’s your take?

Ann: It is so important to find both — especially for young mothers. You have to find something that is yours. When my kids were young, I played tennis. I didn’t play every day, but I tried to play every day. It was my space, my time. Even with small children, young mothers can carve out something that is their own. Find something you look forward to and that you love. I was a runner when I was younger, and now I’m active with horses. It is most definitely my passion right now. You just have to make sure your passion doesn’t distract from what you’re really supposed to be doing! (laughing) It’s hard to raise children, and you need an outlet — a space where you still have your own identity.

 

UV: And the balance part?

Ann: As life consumes us, we have to always readjust and remind ourselves of our focus. You know when you are out of balance, but you have to remind yourself how to get back in balance. It’s a learning process. As the needs of the children change, everything changes. You have to make adjustments along the path. We should have the long view in mind and know where we want to go, but we can’t just set the dial and think we’re going to get to our end destination. Adjust, adjust.

 

UV: How does routine vs. spontaneity fit into that?

Ann: It’s important to have health routines and to eat properly. It’s also important to have a spiritual routine where you nourish your soul with scripture or meditation — whatever feeds your soul. You also need the physical aspect, such as playing tennis, which has been a big part of my life. That is why it was so tough when I got MS because I had to pull back on my activities.

 

UV: Is there a part of you that is grateful for MS?

Ann: A very, very small part. You learn the most from tough lessons in life, and MS has been my toughest teacher. It has taught me a lot. It has taught me how to appreciate the good days. It’s taught me how to pace myself better. Most importantly, it’s taught me to recognize that nobody gets through life unscathed. Everyone is dealing with their own MS in one way or another. It has sensitized me to others’ needs because I know what others are going through. Yes, MS is a tough teacher, and there are many days I wish I didn’t have that teacher, but I don’t have a choice.

 

UV: What do you shed tears over?

Ann: Recently I’ve been crying with joy ­— I honestly get so emotional that I cry with joy! Everything is really, really good. Some people say, “But you lost the presidential race!” But I don’t feel down about that. My life is really wonderful with my grandchildren, and I’ll have three more in the next few months. That makes my heart sing. Another thing that makes me emotional is being in nature. And I get emotional when I step back and see the place that Mitt and I are in our lives.

 

UV: What makes you laugh?

Ann: My husband! He’s very funny. He’s funny even when he’s not trying to be funny.

 

UV: What is your favorite sound?

Ann: I love to hear children laughing. It means everything is good.

 

UV: Favorite smell?

Ann: I love the smell of flowers in the summer. I also love the fragrance of being outdoors — especially just after it has rained. I also love to feel the earth, to smell the earth.

 

UV: Favorite TV shows?

Ann: Mitt and I love watching “American Idol.” We always Tivo it, and Mitt and I watched every episode this last season. Sometimes we were together, sometimes not.

 

UV: So who were you rooting for?

Ann: David Archuleta. We loved his voice!

 

UV: Good Utah answer! What else do you enjoy doing in your down time?

Ann: On the airplane, I always have a stack of thank-you notes to write. And I always have a Sudoku puzzle. I’m at the fiendish level. Mitt is shocked at how fast I do them. He struggles with Sudoku, and I’ll say, “Don’t you see the pattern there?” “What pattern?” It’s fun for me because with all of the flying we do and traveling in the car, I’ll have 10 minutes here or 10 minutes there to work on the puzzle. It’s perfect. Forget needlepoint — there’s too much jostling. But I can pop out my thank-you notes or my Sudoku puzzle no matter what happens.

 

UV: Are you a phone or an e-mail person?

Ann: I prefer the phone because it’s more personal. But e-mail is essential for me right now — especially with the time zone changes. There are so many people I need to communicate with — including my kids and grandkids.

 

UV: Have your horses replaced your kids now that you’re an empty nester?

Ann: Absolutely. My kids know that mom is passionate about horses. But I don’t make them come watch me show my horses. I give them a “pass.”

 

UV: How have you managed to maintain your equestrian hobbies during the busy political season?

Ann: It has been my sanity. Having my own passions has kept me going. And my horses have taught me so much. For example, if you ride correctly, you ride with balance. And in life, you have to be balanced to have your best life. So it is difficult to find time for my horses, but I know that doing so has kept me balanced and kept me strong.

 

UV: Are you still following the presidential race closely?

Ann: Not like I was. I’ve stepped back in so many ways. I’m enjoying life. I’m smiling a lot more. I’m relaxed and feeling like myself again. It took a little while to get over it, but I’m fine. I have no hard feelings about anything.

 

UV: During the campaign, I always thought that if it had been a campaign between the spouses, you would have cleaned up!

Ann: The wives did gather for a women’s conference, and there were 10,000 women attendees and almost all of the wives of the candidates. It was an extraordinary experience to share the sisterhood together. We all knew what was going on. We were all stumping for our husbands.

 

UV: Were you ever nervous giving speeches day after day?

Ann: I was never nervous. Not for a second. I’m more nervous showing my horse than speaking to a million people on TV.

 

UV: What prepared you for the intensity of it all?

Ann: Giving church talks. I’ve been Relief Society president, stake Young Women president. I’ve learned to run things and plan events and speak on a moment’s notice. I’ve also been on a lot of boards. I’ve been on the United Way board with all of the big executives. I have a lot of confidence. And as far as the campaign, we felt like it was the right thing to do and we loved to be there all of the time.

 

UV: Was it difficult to maintain your private life and your public life?

Ann: It was like a seesaw. Public, private, public, private. We kept our sanity by having the private moments of laughing, joking, chitchatting, talking to the kids. And then, boom! We switched back into the public eye.

 

UV: What did you learn from your 12 months running for president with Mitt?

Ann: I learned who I could trust, and it wasn’t very many people. I learned to be careful. I learned that everything you think is a positive, the press or other candidates figure out how to make it a negative. You learn to play the game — to accommodate. It’s a game, and the rules are stacked against you.

FamilyPicture

Mitt and Ann Romney began their family in Provo with the birth of their oldest son, Tagg. Four more sons came along, and all have all married and started families. “They put their lives on hold for a year to help us with the campaign,” Ann says. “It showed us how much they love us.”

 

UV: What was it like for you when Mitt dropped out of the race?

Ann: I was very sad. I was with him when he gave the speech. People around us were sobbing and crying, “No! No! No!” It was amazing. We finally felt like we had gotten our message through, but by then it was over.

 

UV: Is it frustrating to feel like the best man didn’t win?

Ann: In some ways it is unbelievable. But now we are very supportive of McCain. He has a lot of experience that will make him a good president.

 

UV: What was it like to have the press focused so closely on your family?

Ann: At the end of the campaign, the press was travelling with us all the time. They were on our plane or our bus. There was no privacy. If we stood up, they would take our picture. So we would slouch down in the seat and chat so they couldn’t take a picture of us doing that. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it really is. I look at the candidates still running, and I know how hard they are working.

 

UV: What question did you get tired of being asked?

Ann: There were about five standard questions I got asked. I felt like I got to know the drill pretty well. They always wanted to know what my role would be as First Lady. They always wanted to know what it was like to be on the campaign trail. The national media was cynical and hardened, but the local media was always so pleasant and wonderful to work with.

 

UV: What question do you wish you’d been asked more often?

Ann: I wish I had more of a chance to talk about how Mitt would be an effective president. I wish I could have talked more about his characteristics that make him an unusual leader. He has had some very unusual experiences in his lifetime for leadership, working on the economy and bringing big changes to organizations. There are many things that are extraordinary about him. He was leagues better than the other candidates.

 

UV: You’ve spent public and private time with other candidates, including a recent weekend with the McCains. What was that like?

Ann: They’re just people, and we have everyday conversations like, “Look at the bird that just flew by. Was that a hawk?” When you are outside the press bubble, everyone is chatting about the birds in the river — normal stuff.

 

UV: What are some of the funny things that happened on the campaign trail?

Ann: There were so many funny things. A lot of times we didn’t know what door we were supposed to go in. There were times I slammed the door, not knowing that Mitt was coming out the same door I just slammed. We stayed in every hotel imaginable. We stayed in a hotel where supposedly Jeffrey Dahmer had murdered someone. That was comforting! Another time, Mitt left the hotel room to make a call. I leaned out the door and said, “Don’t go! Come on in!” There was a big hunkin’ guy there, and he pointed to himself and said, “Me?” I laughed and said, “Not you! Sorry!” Funny things happened all the time.

 

UV: I’m glad to hear there were lighthearted times because I’m sure most of the time there was intense pressure.

Ann: It became “every day” stuff to us. You make the public appearance, make the speech, do the press, get back in the car. And as soon as you get back in the car and close the door, everybody pops out their Blackberries and goes back into “normal mode.” “Oh, Josh called.” You don’t even talk about what just happened at the speech because you are back in the bubble of the car with your family.

 

UV: How often were you with Mitt during the race?

Ann: In the beginning we were together a lot. It was hard at the end because we had to go our separate ways.

 

UV: Did you call and text him?

Ann: All day long. Even if it was just a short text of “hi” or “crazy here.”

 

UV: Do you ever feel like you are Mrs. Mitt Romney instead of Ann Romney?

Ann: In our marriage we are equal partners. There are so many misconceptions about Mormons and temple marriages. But if they really understood us and our religious beliefs, they would know that we focus on having really good marriages. And to have a really good marriage, you have to have an equal partnership. So I am very happy to support Mitt, and he supports me equally.

 

UV: Does it surprise you that Mitt rose to the top of Corporate America and was nearly the president? Or did you see great things in him from the beginning?

Ann: When I met him as a teenager, I knew he was going to be extraordinarily successful. He was so unusual in his intelligence and in his ability to want to take charge. I sensed that he was going places, and I wanted to be there with him along the way. He was a lot of fun, and he never took himself too seriously.

 

UV: How have things changed now that you’ve both been in the national spotlight? Do you go out in public like you used to?

Ann: Mitt gets recognized and stopped wherever we go. I’ll say to him, “Will you put a paper bag on your head when we go out?” And he says, “Is it that painful to be with me?” And I tell him that I love being with him, but I don’t like being with him in public. He is hounded by people with mostly good intentions. Everyone wants his picture or his autograph. And every single time, they start off with, “I don’t mean to bother.” But they are! It’s hard not to have any privacy when we go out. Sometimes I leave Mitt in the car at the grocery store to save time. He accommodates everyone and takes the time to sign things and smile for pictures.

 

UV: Thank you for smiling for our pictures today and for the interview. I hope I didn’t ask you the same five questions you’re sick of!

Ann: Thank you. I’m glad we were able to get together!

Provo’s 84604 was biggest contributor

Provo’s 84604 ZIP code topped the country in contributions to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign with $430,443, while Salt Lake’s 84108 was seventh with $257,952 and Alpine was ninth with $242,193.

In Provo, Romney collected $209,105 from 152 donors in just three months of campaigning, (In comparison, President Bush had 31 donors and $25,505 worth of contributions during the entire 2004 campaign).

And it wasn’t just people on the hill adding to the coffers.

Students from BYU volunteered at a call center in Provo. About 10 to 15 people a day made calls to spread Romney’s views. Other creative Utah County contributions included www.MatchingForMitt.com, which was created by William Tayler, a BYU grad student. The site launched in December 2007 and allowed people to match donations to the campaign. It added $9,638 to the campaign. There was also an eBay option where students could auction their items and send the money straight to the campaign.

For the state as a whole, Utah beat Massachusetts and was second only to California in contributions to the campaign.

“Honestly, I feel so grateful to Utah,” Ann Romney says. “They know us better than the rest of the country because of the Olympics. They didn’t hear about us through the filter of our opponents.”

 

The Story Behind the Story

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Utah Valley Magazine editor Jeanette Bennett interviews Ann Romney at her home in California.

My interview with Ann Romney began before it began. As we were taking a quick tour of the Southern California horse arena for photo locations, she began sharing some quotables.

I couldn’t type on my laptop while we were standing together, so I reached for a yellow notepad in my black bag. I silently gasped when it flipped open to a page “decorated” by one of my children with a Sharpie. Ann’s response: “You have kids?”

Ice broken.

Then I closed the notepad, only to find the front page titled “Youth Conference” with the list I’d made on the airplane of things I needed to bring to the event I was in charge of the day after this interview.

Ann’s response: “You’re going to Youth Conference?”

Now we were two women talking youthful art and youth-oriented events that require walkie-talkies and first-aid kits. Ann made it sound like running for president was child’s play compared to organizing an overnight event intended to change the lives of youth 14 and up.

— Jeanette Bennett

 

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