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Romney determined to make mark early

Relationship with wife Ann has been source of strength

Published: Wednesday, July 4 2007 12:05 a.m. MDT

Mitt and Ann Romney with some of their family members. Mitt and Ann, married since 1969, have been a solid team.

Family photo

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 » Series link — Special report from The Boston Globe

The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies and sons when Mitt Romney climbed behind the wheel to begin the annual 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario.

As with most ventures in his life, he had left little to chance, mapping out the route and planning each stop. The destination for this journey in the summer of 1983 was his parents' cottage on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. Romney would be returning to the place of his most cherished childhood memories.

Even for someone who had always idolized his father, the similarities between his path in life and the one George Romney had cut before him were remarkable.

Husband to his high school sweetheart, father to a brood of young children, bishop of his local LDS church, and businessman on the threshold of life-altering success.

If anything, 36-year-old Mitt, who had just been tapped to lead a new venture capital firm, was on track to achieve more at a younger age than his famously overachieving father.

His father had known poverty as a child, Mitt only privilege. His father had succeeded without a college degree while Mitt was launched with the finest educational pedigree. Given all his advantages, Mitt seemed restless to make his mark sooner.

Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Then Romney put his boys on notice: He would be making predetermined stops for gas, and that was it.

The ride was largely what you'd expect with five brothers, ages 13 and younger, packed into a wagon they called the "white whale." As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble.

"Dad!" he yelled. "Gross!" A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours. As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station.

There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.

And it offered his sons a rare unplanned stop.

"Think about it," Tagg says, "a 12-hour drive and the only time we stop is to get gas. When we stop, you can buy your food and go to the bathroom, but that's the only time we're stopping, so you'd better get it all done at once."

Yet there was one exception to Mitt's nonstop policy. "As soon as my mom says, 'I think I need to go to the bathroom,' he pulls over instantly and doesn't complain. 'Anything for you, Ann."'

Tagg didn't get it back then, but now at age 37 he finally understands why his father has been willing to suspend his regimented ways when it comes to his wife. "When they were dating," Tagg says, "he felt like she was way better than him, and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really genuinely still feels that way, thinks, 'I'm so lucky I've got her.' So he puts her on a pedestal."

He had always treated Ann that way, especially since he'd nearly lost her.

'Dear Mitt'

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