Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, recently announced that Mitt will be their commencement speaker on May 12. He will address the crowd of 34,000, which will include the graduates, friends and family who will gather for this year’s graduation ceremonies. Because Dane, our partner on MittTheMan.com practices medicine in Lynchburg in addition to his hometown of Roanoke, and has been a friend of Mitt’s for the past 45 years, he was recently interviewed by the Lynchburg newspaper, the News and Advance.
Here is the text of the article from the newspaper’s Web site that provides several interesting insights into Mitt’s time in France, his years at Brigham Young University, as well as later years :
Dr. Dane McBride treats children and allergy sufferers in Lynchburg today, but as a young man he was doing something entirely different.
He was trying to win converts to Mormonism in France with another young missionary named Mitt Romney.
McBride says he knows a very different man from the presidential candidate who’s portrayed in the media as “plastic and robotic — all those adjectives they use to depersonalize him,” theLynchburgdoctor said during an interview this week.
Mitt Romney the person is someone McBride calls “very warm and personable, engaging, funny, smart as a whip.”
“But when he’s down to business, he’s all business,” McBride said.
On the other hand, “Mitt is not a born politician. And that’s one of the reasons they say he’s awkward on the campaign trail,” said McBride, who has stayed in touch with Romney over the years, and took a group of businessmen to meet Romney at a fund-raising event in Washington on Wednesday night.
By nature, the Republican nominee-apparent is “a problem-solver, a fixer,” he said.
Romney showed those talents when the mission in France was in danger of missing its goal, and again when he was president of the Cougar fundraising club at Brigham Young University, McBride said.
He recounted his first meeting with Romney, whose father, George, was governor ofMichiganand, to McBride, a hero because he was a successful Mormon east of theMississippi.
“Right off the bat I saw a number of things” about the governor’s son, McBride said.
“He was smart, he was a hard worker, and he was very helpful to others who were struggling” to learn their way as missionaries in a foreign country.
In the spring of 1968, during their 30-month mission efforts, France was in upheaval with riots and labor strife that almost toppled the government.
The turmoil slowed the mission effort, McBride said, but Romney was promoted to a job assisting the president of the Mormon church in France.
Soon afterward, Romney was driving the president and his wife when a Mercedes Benz came around a curve on the wrong side and hit Romney’s vehicle head-on.
The president’s wife died.
Romney was ejected from the vehicle unconscious, and a French policeman wrote on Romney’s passport: “He is dead,” McBride said.
But Romney survived with a broken arm and, a couple of months later, was in a meeting to assess the mission’s progress.
The missionaries were only halfway to their goal of 160 converts for the year, but it was already September and the workers’ morale was low due to the country’s social unrest and the loss of the president’s wife.
“We were looking for ways to raise morale and raise performance. One of the things we did, and it was Mitt’s idea, was to raise the goal from 160 to 200 for the year, and we were at 80,” McBride said.
“So in four months we would get 120 more.
“This was a major increase in effort, and this was a way to get people to step up and perform. To make a long story short, come December 31, we had surpassed that goal; we had 204. That was Mitt’s first serious turnaround of a failing enterprise,” he said, alluding to Romney’s later career as a businessman whose Bain Capital company specialized in taking over failing businesses, making many of them profitable.
A couple years later, when Romney and McBride were students at Brigham Young, Romney proposed the university’s Cougar Club skip its usual goal of raising $10,000 a year for the athletics program, and aim for $100,000.
Instead of sponsoring dances and selling mums for homecoming, the club set up a phone bank to call alumni and parents to ask for donations — a new concept at the time. The club members raised $100,000, McBride said, and in an atmosphere that allowed them to say, “We did that.”
McBride said he doesn’t buy into another of the political arena’s perceptions of Romney: “that he’s too darn rich and doesn’t know how the rest of us live.”
“I have lived with him at just barely above poverty level for 2½ years in France,” and during part of the time they lived in the same “flea-bitten” apartment, McBride said.
“He knows what it’s like to live at a lower level than most people in this country may have lived at,” McBride said.
The doctor also noticed the social-media commentary stimulated by Liberty University’s invitation to have Romney speak at its graduation ceremony May 12. (McBride plans to attend.)
Discussion has focused on whether it’s appropriate to have a Mormon speak at a Christian university.
“This will be the largest audience he has spoken to, largely an evangelical audience, and so it’s an opportunity for him to present himself in a way that is more acceptable to them on the basis of common values and on what he will do to turn the country around from where it’s at in its economy,” McBride said.
“I’m almost certain he’s not going to dwell on religious subjects,” McBride said.
McBride offered his own opinion that “people will hear Mitt and they will say, ‘this guy has our values,’” because in terms of family values, personal values, the importance of family, the importance of faith, “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference in their values.”
Note: Dr. Dane C. McBride practices pediatrics and allergy & immunology in Lynchburg, Roanoke and Salem.