"His resilience was truly astounding," said Joel H. McKinnon, who was the senior assistant to the president in the mission home. "He would have 20 ideas in 35 minutes, and it'd take me a week to have that many.... He didn't seem to be particularly pensive or particularly concerned about the accident, as to what had happened to him and how close he'd come to death.... He was back and ready to work."
In the absence of the mission president, who had returned to the United States after his wife's death, Romney took on a greater leadership role. It was during this period, in late 1968, that some people say they saw the first glimpses of the super-organized achiever who many knew in later years.
He devised innovative ways to engage the French. In a letter to his parents, he talked about reaching out to people through "singing, basketball exhibitions, archelogy (sic) lectures, street meetings.... Why even last Sat night my comp (companion) and I went into bars, explaining that we had a message of great happiness and joy."
Noticing some French people's interest in America, he staged USA nights to show slides about America; in one city he offered a talk on American politics. In November, just before finishing his mission, he gave a talk at a missionary conference based upon the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon, about "desire" and "how we can obtain anything we want in life if we want it badly enough" according to a missionary's journal.
Romney would go on to great material success, and the LDS Church continued to play a big role in his life. Over the years, he would give millions of dollars to the church, following a LDS requirement for tithing, or contributing 10 percent of one's income; he would visit temples throughout the world; and he would serve in several key church roles, as bishop of a ward in Belmont and president of the Boston stake, a group of about a dozen congregations in eastern Massachusetts.
In the late 1990s, a new LDS temple, serving all of the Northeast, rose over his hometown of Belmont.
Now, as he runs for president, he points to his time in France as a key moment in his spiritual development: "I came to know my faith a great deal better by virtue of my two years in France."
On the campaign trail, he angered some Mormons by denouncing the church's history of plural marriage, saying on CBS's "60 Minutes," "I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy."But his family's history, like that of his church, is an ever-present part of his life: In the first-floor hallway of his home the portraits of five generations of Romneys hang in an unbroken line: Miles Archibald, Miles Park, Gaskell, George and Mitt.
Contributing: Michael Kranish reported from Mexico; Michael Paulson reported from France. Globe correspondent Julie Chazyn contributed from France. Next: Study, sweat and profit
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