Ann Romney proudly owns stay-at-home mom image

By Allen G. Breed

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Aug. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Jan. 29, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife Ann work on their iPads on their campaign bus as it travels to Hialeah, Fla.

Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press

To the yearbook editors at the all-girl Kingswood School, Ann Lois Davies' destiny seemed pretty obvious.

"The first lady," the entry beside the stunning blonde beauty's photo in the 1967 edition of "Woodwinds" concluded. "Quiet and soft spoken."

The modern feminist movement was just dawning, and even some of the girls at the staid prep school in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills were feeling their oats — if in a somewhat tame way. Charlon McMath Hibbard remembers getting a doctor's note about her feet, so she wouldn't have to wear the obligatory saddle Oxfords.

"We were a rather outspoken class," says Hibbard, who took weaving, and played lacrosse and basketball with the future Ann Romney. "We were just not going to take the status quo."

But considering that their classmate was already betrothed to Willard Mitt Romney — the dashing son of Michigan governor and Republican presidential contender George W. Romney — the "Woodwinds" staff weren't exactly going out on a limb.

Having been first lady of Massachusetts, Ann Romney has already lived up to those yearbook expectations. Now, she's in the running for the national title.

The 63-year-old mother of five and grandmother of 18 has embraced the homemaker image that Hillary Rodham Clinton so openly scorned. On the campaign trail, she's been filmed baking pies and serving her grandmother's Welsh skillet cakes on the media bus. But while Ann Romney is more Betty Crocker than Betty Ford, it's clear she's not going to be Mitt Romney's silent partner. In fact, it was she who divulged that women were on the short list of possible vice presidential picks.

Critics have painted her as the dutiful, starry-eyed wife, standing by — and behind — her man. Friends say that's an over-simplification.

"With Mitt, it's always going to be 'we,'" says Pamela Hayes Peterson, who has known Ann Romney since the sixth grade and was one of her bridesmaids. "She is NOT subordinate, trust me. Did she want to be in the public eye? Probably not. She is so gracious and she loves him so much that, if it's important to him, she will come outside of her comfort zone to be where she needs to be for him. But he will do the same thing for her.

"We're talking about the most unusual couple in the world," she says. "And the public doesn't see this."

Three years ago, when Romney's official gubernatorial portrait was unveiled at the Massachusetts Statehouse, it included something unprecedented: A small photo of the state's first lady, smiling from the desk. There was some carping in the arts community, but Romney insisted.

"I gather that he credits her for much of his success," says New Hampshire artist Richard Whitney, who worked from Romney's favorite photo of Ann. "He basically told them he was paying for the portrait, and that's what he wanted. I was very impressed with that."

They have been through a lot together. They've built a large family, and a fortune. But there have been hard times — Ann's multiple sclerosis and breast cancer; a stillborn child; the rigors of campaigns, some successful, more of them not. Stung by her portrayal as a "Stepford Wife" in her husband's losing 1994 run for the U.S. Senate, Mrs. Romney famously declared: "You couldn't pay me to do this again."

And yet, she has — in 2002, 2008 and now a third time.

It means again opening herself up to uncomfortable scrutiny and sniggers about the couple's wealth, estimated to be in the $250 million range.

Like her husband, Ann Romney sometimes seems oblivious about her life of privilege. Mitt mentions that Ann "drives a couple of Cadillacs." She shows up in a $990 designer shirt for a TV interview, and in another says the Romneys won't release more of their tax returns because "we've given all people need to know."

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