Ann Romney, the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, stepped into the national spotlight last week when she took umbrage at a Democratic strategist who said she “actually never worked a day in her life.”The resulting political firestorm brought heaps of attention to the 63-year-old Ann’s role as a wife, mother of five, and grandmother of 16, and yet, many Americans still know surprisingly little about her. Here, seven intriguing facts and anecdotes about the woman who could be the next first lady:
1. Ann and Mitt met in grade school
The two grew up in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, and met in elementary school. Mitt Romney’s father was CEO of automaker AMC, and Ann Davies’ father was president of a maritime-machinery company. According to the genealogy site Archives, “the mischievous Mitt would throw pebbles at Ann as she rode by on a horse.” But they didn’t start dating until Ann was 15. As candidate Mitt explains, he and Ann met at a party, he drove her home that night, and “we’ve been going steady ever since.”
2. She converted to Mormonism
Mitt graduated high school and left for Stanford. A year later, he embarked on a two-and-a-half-year Mormon mission to France, prompting Ann to decide to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1966. Mitt’s father, then–Gov. George Romney, baptized her into the church. She had been an Episcopalian, and her family wasn’t particularly religious. Two of her brothers converted to Mormonism soon after Ann did.
3. Ann studied in France during Mitt’s Mormon mission
Ann Davies started attending Utah’s Brigham Young University in 1967, and spent a semester of her sophomore year in Grenoble, France. Although both Mitt and Ann were in France at the same time, they saw each other very rarely, and only under strict supervision.
4. Ann dated another man in college
After Ann returned to Utah, and while Mitt was still in France, she sent him “one of the dreaded Dear John letters that papered the walls of Mormon missions around the world,” says Jason Horowitz in The Washington Post. She had started dating big man on campus Kim Cameron. Mitt, devastated, sent Ann a series of urgent letters to win her back — and he did, on the condition that when he finished in France, he would join her at BYU. Cameron says that Romney was always a third wheel during his relationship with Ann. Mitt was the son of the most powerful Mormon in the country, and “if you have a choice to pick either Mitt Romney or Kim Cameron, who are you going to pick?” he told The Post‘s Horowitz. “I mean, 99 out of a hundred, no contest.”
5. The Romneys never argue
Mitt and Ann were married in March 1969, and by the time she gave an interview to The Boston Globe in 1994, Ann said she could count the number of arguments they’d had on one finger. Their friends and five sons back her up. “I know there are things that she says that he doesn’t agree with sometimes, and I see him kind of bite his tongue,” oldest son Tagg tells two Globe reporters in a new book. But “they go and discuss it in private. He doesn’t ever contradict my mother in public.” When Mormons marry, they’re “sealed” for eternity, and encouraged to perfect their marriages, religion professor Laurie Maffly-Kipp tells The New York Times. “It’s like constant marriage counseling.”
6. Her debut as a political wife was a debacle
“Ann Romney is a good mum,” says Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, but “she’s also a good pol.” That wasn’t always the case. Her “debut as a political wife was somewhere between a disappointment and a disaster,” says Jodi Kantor in The New York Times. When Mitt was challenging Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 1994, Ann stumped for him, but was “derided as superficial, pampered, and too deferential” to her husband. “She definitely hurt him in that race,” Boston University political scientist Thomas Whalen tells The Times. Now, “she seems much better at retail politics than her husband.”
7. She uses horseback riding to combat her multiple sclerosis
In 1998, after months of mysterious weakness and numbness, Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an often debilitating neurological disorder. She took steroids to stabilise the disease, but now relies mostly on a combination of alternative treatments, including acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, and her “joy therapy,” horseback riding. She has become quite skilled at dressage, a form of horse training and riding involving “seven-figure horses and four-figure saddles,” and competes at amateur and even professional-level competitions, winning several medals. She’s so into her hobby-therapy that son Josh Romney got his father a horse mask for Christmas in 1996, with the advice: “Maybe mum will pay as much attention to you as she does to the horses.”
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