Obituary of Mitt Romney’s mother, Lenore Romney

In his speech tonight at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney is expected to mention the influence of his mother, Lenore Romney. Here’s the obituary of her I wrote for the Detroit Free Press after she died.

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WIFE OF FORMER GOVERNOR HAD OPINIONS OF HER  OWN

Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

Published in Detroit Free Press

Wednesday, 7/8/1998

Lenore Romney, who spurned a movie contract to marry her high-school sweetheart and later became his political confidante and a Senate candidate, died Tuesday in William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

She was 89 and had suffered a stroke at her Bloomfield Hills home on Thursday, the 67th anniversary of her wedding.

Romney steadfastly stood by her husband, George — Michigan’s Republican

governor in 1963-69 — even when she wasn’t entirely at ease with the political world.

“Politics is like washing diapers, ” she was quoted as saying. “You want the baby so much, you don’t mind washing his diapers.”

She failed in her bid for political office, losing in 1970 to Democratic Sen. Philip Hart.

George Romney called her his “secret weapon, ” a confidante, adviser and campaigner. “Whatever George believes in and wants, I believe in and want, too, ” she once said, “because I believe in him.”

Jerry Roe, state GOP executive director in 1969-79, said, “He didn’t make a major decision without her, I’m sure.”

Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, recalled her as a very popular first lady. “She had a much more active, partisan kind of role in the party than any other first lady, before or since, ” he said Tuesday.

Scott Romney, one of her four children, said, “She was a strong and a great woman in her own right, but her greatest impact was on dad. She lifted and inspired him in all he accomplished. She had her own opinions and went toe-to-toe with him on some things, and he respected her for that.”

In 1930, the former Lenore Lafount was on her way to Hollywood stardom after studying drama in New York City and acting in Shakespearean roles. She played bit parts as a chic girl in a Greta Garbo film and as a stand-in in “Fifty Million Frenchmen.” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer soon offered her a three-year contract.

But her Mormon sensibilities were bothered by the seedy film industry. She was put off by the “riff-raff of extras” who gambled — and the studio wanted her in cheesecake poses.

George Romney had been in Britain on a Mormon preaching mission. About that time he returned to night school at GeorgeWashingtonUniversity and proposed marriage. She accepted his offer instead of MGM’s, and they were married in the MormonTemple at Salt Lake City in 1931.

When Lenore Ronmey was pregnant with her second child in 1946, doctors warned that a miscarriage was inevitable. But she was determined not to lose the child. She lay in a hospital bed without moving for a month while quoting Emily Dickinson poems. The baby, Mitt, was born.

In January 1969, the couple left Lansing when George Romney resigned to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Richard Nixon.

Then in 1970, Lenore Romney entered politics on her own — sliding past state Sen. Robert Huber to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Early on, she hoped her campaign would be “a love affair between me and the people of Michigan, ” but it developed into a tough battle. After using campaign rhetoric such as “Good grief — haven’t you had enough Hart trouble?,” she shifted the thrust of her campaign five weeks before the November election by halting strong attacks against Hart.

Republican Party polls portrayed her as a 5-2 underdog, but she retorted, “I will win because my principles are right and I’m on the right side of the issues.”

She was soundly defeated.

George Romney later said that his wife “sacrificed herself to ensure the future of the party” and that her candidacy “died months before the election because of inaccurate press reports” about the circumstances of her becoming a candidate.

The Romneys insisted that she decided to run at the urging of then-Gov. William Milliken and Rep. Gerald Ford, who wanted her to grab the nomination from the “too liberal” Donald Riegle of Flint, then a Republican, and the “too conservative” Huber of Troy.

“The disappointing aspect of it, ” George Romney said, “was to have her drafted by the party leaders and then to have the people told day after day that I had forced her on the party.”

He left the HUD post in 1973, shortly before the Watergate crisis, and returned with his wife to their Swiss-style, split-chalet home in Bloomfield Hills. The couple stayed close to home.

They had been married for 64 years when he died at home in 1995. He was 88.

Survivors include daughters Lynn Romney Keenan and Jane Lafount Romney; sons George Scott and Willard Mitt; 24 grandchildren, and 41 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be 7-9 p.m. Thursday at A.J. Desmond and Sons Funeral Home, 32515 Woodward in Royal Oak.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 425 Woodward in Bloomfield Hills. Burial will be private.

Hugh McDiarmid contributed to this report.

 Contact Niraj Warikoo at Twitter.com/nwarikoo

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