BOSTON (AP)— From his slicked, carefully coifed hair to his data-driven business principles to his unwavering devotion to his oft-maligned Mormon faith, Mitt Romney is the spitting image of his father physically, professionally and morally.

The depth of their bond can be seen in one early story.

As an 18-year-old, Mitt Romney met a 15-year-old girl with whom he felt he could share his life. He then left for a year of college and a 2 1/2-year Mormon mission in France, during which time his father not only took his future wife, Ann Davies, to church, but converted her to their faith.

"Your gal looked lovely as always," George Romney wrote to his son in February 1967. "I sat next to her in church and asked if that ring of yours on her engagement finger meant what it usually means, and she said it did."

At the time, George Romney was governor of Michigan and former chairman of American Motors; Ann's father, Edward Davies, had a less lofty title as the part-time mayor of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where both families lived.

By the time Mitt returned in 1969, Ann's conversion was complete. Three months later the couple - he was 22, she 19 - married, first in a civil ceremony in Ann's home and the next day in the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City.

Today, as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney highlights his 38-year marriage, his five sons and the family life he's built with Ann - all tied to his father's influence.

"My dad is my life hero," said Romney, now 60. "I probably would have never thought about politics; it would have never crossed my mind, had I not seen him do it. He's the real pioneer."

Willard Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, the youngest of George and Lenore Romney's four children. Although they lived a privileged life in the Detroit suburbs, Romney's parents sought to instill working-class values in their children by making sure they pitched in with chores. That routinely included waking them before dawn to shovel during snowstorms.

In the 1960s, Democrats dominated Michigan - no surprise given its vibrant labor movement thanks to the auto industry. What was a surprise was George Romney's success in being elected governor in 1962 as a Republican.

The father invited the son to strategy sessions, giving him a front row seat on the campaign.

"I saw how he solicited views from other people, how he built a team of great individuals, how he made decisions based on data and analysis and solid thinking and not just gut feeling or opinion," Romney said.

George Romney was an early favorite for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination. Then, during an interview shortly after visiting Vietnam, the elder Romney expressed frustration with the increasingly unpopular war and with the generals he felt were misleading the public.

"I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get," he told a television reporter.

"Brainwashing" became "brainwashed" in some accounts, and before Romney knew it, a throwaway line had blossomed into questions about his mental health. He quit the campaign a few weeks before the New Hampshire primary.

The reversal of fortune was bitter for Mitt Romney and would grate on him for the next four decades.

George Romney wanted his son to go to law school after Brigham Young University, but Mitt wanted to attend business school. He opted for both, enrolling in a dual-degree program at Harvard in 1971. Over five years, he would simultaneously earn a law degree from Harvard Law School and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Romney landed a prized job at the Boston Consulting Group, helping companies streamline their operations and fatten their bottom lines.

He moved to a rival consulting firm, Bain & Co., in 1977 and was so promising that the company's founder tapped him to head Bain Capital, a spin-off Bain envisioned would combine analytical and management expertise with investments in promising companies.

With Romney at the helm, Bain Capital helped launch or reshape hundreds of companies, including Staples and Domino's Pizza. Romney went on to make tens of millions of dollars, part of a net worth now estimated at up to $250 million.

"He's able to focus through all the noise," said Bob White, a longtime friend and business associate.

In 1994, Romney decided to follow his father's path into politics. And like George Romney, Mitt Romney did not shy from a political challenge. In one of the bluest of Democratic states, the Republican decided to challenge Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a liberal icon.

Romney started off strong, tapping into a well of Kennedy fatigue. But Kennedy rallied and focused on some of Bain Capital's business deals, bringing in workers from an Indiana business where Bain had laid off employees, cut wages and slashed benefits.

Kennedy ended up winning, 58 percent to 41 percent.

"He had been advertised by certain pundits as being over the hill, but he is far from it," Romney said. "He took me to school."

A different challenge a few years later brought acclaim.

In the late 1990s, Utah, the seat of Romney's Mormon faith, was reeling. To land the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had enticed International Olympics officials with lavish gifts. Accusations of bribery mired the Games in scandal. Resignations sullied the region's reputation.

Utah officials went looking for a white knight.

Romney took the job. As president and CEO of the organizing committee he pared the budget, boosted revenues and worked to repair the committee's reputation with sponsors. The Games cemented Romney's reputation as a "turnaround" king. That prompted his return to the political arena.

Recruited by the Massachusetts GOP to run for governor in 2002, Romney presented himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. He opposed new taxes, but also pledged not to change the state's abortion laws, and he vowed support for gay rights and other liberal agenda items. Boosted by more than $6 million of his own money, he won.

The victory only sharpened the parallels with his father's life: successful businessman, dedicated family man and, now, governor.

Romney brought a CEO's focus to the job, his term noted particularly for a landmark health care law. Still, political opponents say he missed some opportunities because he chose political battles instead of real accomplishments.

By the end of 2005, Romney approached a self-imposed deadline for deciding whether to seek re-election the following year. His father had served three terms, but Romney decided to leave after just one.

"In this four-year term, we can accomplish what I set out to do," he said. "In fact, we've already accomplished a great deal."

In February, Romney formally declared his candidacy for president at the Henry Ford Museum in his native Michigan. Behind him was a Rambler, a car made during his dad's final year as American Motors chairman just before he entered politics.

"The fact that he took that path of course has made that something I would consider," Mitt Romney said of his beloved father, who died in 1995. "Otherwise it probably wouldn't have entered my thinking."