After the birth of her third child, Scott, Lenore LaFount Romney was devastated to learn that she could no longer carry a baby. The risks were too high, she was told, and future births could only be done through a Caesarean section. This probably explains the shock that accompanied the news of Willard Mitt Romney’s arrival on March 12, 1947.
The proud father, George Wilcken Romney, was bursting with joy and sent out telegrams and letters to family and friends from their home in Detroit, Michigan. In one of the letters, George declared, “Well, by now most of you have had the really big news, but for those who haven't, Willard Mitt Romney arrived at Ten AM March 12.”
It was a difficult birth, and the attending doctor remarked, as related by Tiger Vidmar in his book, ‘Behind the Mask: Mitt Romney’; “I don't see how she became pregnant, or how she carried the child.”
The parents named him in honor of George’s good friend, J. Willard Marriot (who would later establish the Marriot chain of hotels) and his cousin Milton ‘Mitt’ Romney, the former star quarterback for the Chicago Bears.
Romney’s arrival coincided with George’s rising fortune. The college dropout, who by then was already a highly rated executive after successful stints as General Manager of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and later, as Managing Director of the Automotive Council for War Production, is widely credited as one of the architects in Detroit’s emergence as the Motor City of the nation.
He was poached by George Mason a year after Mitt was born and appointed as the Executive Vice President of Nash-Kelvinator, which effectively made him the number two man in the firm. Five years later, following the death of Mason, George became the President and Chairman of the firm. Within twelve months, George engineered a merger between Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company, forming the American Motors Corporation (AMC).
Things were looking bleak at the time for the company. Two other smaller car manufacturers, Packard and Studebaker, folded the previous year in the face of the onslaught from the big three; General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. AMC was not expected to fare much better. But George rose to the challenge and introduced the first national branding campaign in the motor industry for the Rambler, aided by a host of Disney characters following the inking of a sponsorship agreement between AMC and Disneyland.
Two straight years of record breaking sales followed, and the Rambler became the third highest selling car in the United States by the early 60s. With the survival of AMC secured, George left the firm in late 1961 for a well-deserved rest, and to begin a new chapter in his career - politics.
George ran for Governor of Michigan in 1962, and against all odds, triumphed in what was considered a Democratic stronghold. He was reelected twice more after that, in 1964 and 1966. He was widely tipped to contest the 1968 Republican presidential nomination race. However, he withdrew after realizing that Richard Nixon was a shoe-in for the nomination. Nevertheless, President Nixon, fearing a renewed run from George in 1972, attempted to appease the man by appointing him to his 12-man cabinet, as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. George accepted the offer, and it proved to be his last high profile position.
During the time George was latched securely on a supersonic career path, young Mitt grew under the tremendous shadow of his larger than life father. However, instead of wilting under the glare of the father he idolized, Mitt, protected by an adoring mother and the rest of his siblings, and took every available opportunity to spend some time with his old man. The affection was mutual, as re-counted by Dick Milliman, the former Press Secretary for Romney Sr. “They would hug upon meeting, and not just any hug," he recalls. "He would give Mitt a big bear hug and a kiss.”