In 2007, I was in Boston playing a very small part in trying to help Mitt win the GOP primary. My husband, a constitutional attorney and captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, and I had started Evangelicals for Mitt the year before and -- through a series of coincidences and opportunities -- I ended up helping Ann Romney on a writing project.
In my normal life, I was a work-from-home mother of two, so life consisted of car lines, lunchboxes, and afternoon volleyball games. But during the 2008 Presidential campaign, I spent time with Mitt and Ann, rode on their campaign bus, heard dozens of speeches, and saw the machinery of a modern Presidential campaign from the inside. Once, the dissonance between my normal life and my campaign existence was vividly illustrated when we were driving down the interstate in a bus, while CNN sped right beside us, a cameraman hanging out the window trying to get a shot of Ann as we drove about 70 mph.
That's when I got a call from my husband, who had just opened a letter from the Army. "You need to come home," he said, with an edge in his voice. He had just learned he was going to Iraq with the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment and would be stationed about ten miles from Iran.
Of course, everything changed. Ann called me immediately after I got home to see how I was handling the news. When I was on the campaign trail with her, I'd been inspired by her as a mother –- she'd successfully raised five boys with a busy husband who'd traveled a great deal. Though she would never compare her situation with a family going through a deployment, she did offer encouragement about how I could have a stable, peaceful family even in his absence. I admired her strength and poise, and even began using her buttermilk pancake recipe with the family as we prepared for his departure.
One day, right before David left, we got a package from Boston with a beautiful brass compass inside. On the back, a very touching message was engraved: "May your journeys always bring you back home." There was also a handwritten note from Gov. Romney: "Thank you for your selfless service to our nation. Your family represents what is good about America. We are honored to call you friends. God be with you."
The deployment didn't make politics recede into the background of life... suddenly, it seemed so much more pertinent. The very morning David left, he grabbed a pen and scribbled out a quick note to Gov. Romney. "I hope when I return I won't shake your hand as a friend but will rather salute you as my Commander-in-Chief."
Of course, that didn't happen. When Gov. Romney dropped out of the race back in 2008 during a Washington, DC speech, I wasn't there. I felt oddly bereft as I sat in front of the television trying to process the announcement. "You see, kids," I said, trying to put on a cheerful face, "we lost this one, but we'll have another shot at it in 2012." I don't think they quite grasped what I was going through.
But then, I got a call from the Romneys. As they were winding down from the fast tempo of the campaign season, they invited me to come to their home in Utah for some skiing. Faster than I could say, "Mom and Dad, the kids are coming for a visit," I headed out west, where I stayed with Mitt, Ann, Ann's brother Rod, and his wife Cindy in the Romney's home. They even spent a day teaching this southerner how to ski at Deer Valley. I was terrible and uncoordinated, and -- in one inglorious moment –- even stopped myself from a bad fall by tackling Gov. Romney. After seeing my incredible lack of talent, Ann stopped on the side of a steep slope and joked. "It's quite possible that you are in more physical danger right now than David," she said.
Sometimes the media tries to portray the Romneys as uncaring, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Ann talked about this unfair characterization in her recent speech at the Republican National Convention. "Mitt does not like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege," she said. "Not a political talking point. We are no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches, and their communities."
Though Gov. Romney doesn't brag about the kindness he shows to others, the stories are leaking out. For example, people are learning of this story of how Mitt helped organize co-workers at Bain Capital to find the teenage daughter of his friend Robert Gay. And they're hearing, for the first time, the story of how Mitt developed a friendship with a 14 year old dying of Hodgkin's disease, and even helped him write a will to make sure the right people received his prized possessions after he died. And when Mitt sold their beautiful Utah home I visited to a couple from Florida, there's even a story about how Mitt showed up to make sure the new owners knew how to use their appliances.
In other words, the kindness they showed me during my husband's deployment isn't unique or even nationally significant. However, I happen to think a successful Presidency is about policies, yes, but it's also about character. That's why it's important that Mitt Romney's incredible resume and economic skills are only matched by his willingness to serve others... even when it doesn't benefit him, even when the cameras aren't there to record it, and even when it means he'll be tackled by an uncoordinated soldier's wife on the side of the mountain.