Mitt Romney's missionary work began not in glamorous Paris but in gritty Le Havre, a seaport along the English Channel.
The one-bedroom apartment that he shared with three other missionaries had no telephone, no television and no radio. There were also no Mormons in Le Havre, so the four American missionaries would hold worship in their apartment, taking turns preaching and singing and offering each other the sacrament of bread and water.
"I remember we went down and we went to a place where they had used mattresses off of ships, and so these mattresses were quite good mattresses but they were very narrow, and so we got some cinder blocks and some plywood doors and a mattress and that's what we had for beds," said Donald K. Miller, then Romney's senior companion, and now a dentist in Calgary.
The missionaries would wake up at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, study the Bible, the Book of Mormon and French, and knock on doors, with breaks for meals and a required bedtime of 10 p.m. They traveled on Solex motorized bicycles, wearing their suits and carrying satchels with pamphlets about Mormonism.
"You knock on the door very simply, you say, 'Bonjour, Madame. Nous sommes deux jeunes Americains,'" Romney would recall. "That means 'We are two young Americans.' And continuing, 'We're talking to people in your neighborhood about our faith and wonder if you'd like to ...' BANG! The door shuts. And most people assumed we were salesmen and said, 'No, I don't want any,' and would shut the door. A lot of people would say, 'Americans? Get out of Vietnam!' BANG!"
Romney became a passionate defender of America's role in Vietnam. And he worked hard to memorize key French words and phrases that would help in his missionary work.
"Whenever we had a discussion he hadn't learned, he would go have a long, hot bath, and when he would come out, he would have the discussion memorized," Miller recalled. "I was dumbfounded."
Romney also stood out for his rarefied background. One of his fellow missionaries, Gerald Anderson, now an Alberta agrologist, recalled how Romney, on a trip to Paris, stunned everyone with his familiarity with the fine French perfumes in a shop on the Champs Elysees.
At the urging of a church official from Utah, Romney encouraged his fellow missionaries to read "Think and Grow Rich!" a 1937 self-help book by Napoleon Hill that had been reissued in 1960. The book argued that wealth and success grew out of the rigorous application of personal beliefs. There was little that was rich or comfortable in the missionary experience, but fellow missionaries say Romney applied himself with the faith of a true believer.
In the "Conversion Diary," then a newsletter of the French Mission, he is mentioned repeatedly for standout numbers of hours spent door-knocking, numbers of copies of the Book of Mormon distributed and numbers of invitations for return visits. He was promoted through the ranks, first to zone leader in Bordeaux, and then to the highest position attainable by a missionary, that of assistant to the mission president in Paris.
But his time in Paris was marred by the car accident that killed Leola Anderson, wife of the mission president, Duane Anderson. Romney was driving when the crowded Citroen was hit by another car.
Romney's injuries were serious enough that his father asked Mitt's brother-in-law, Dr. Bruce Robinson, to fly to France to oversee the medical care. But within a few weeks, Mitt was seemingly back to normal, and his friends were struck by how quickly he threw himself back into work, determined not to let the tragedy slow the mission.
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