Church, family come first for Olympic leader
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PARK CITY, Utah When he isn't in Greece lighting the Olympic flame, or in Washington, D.C., shaking hands with the President of the United States, or in New York City greeting the mayor, Mitt Romney can be found on Sunday mornings with chalk in hand teaching the gospel essentials class in his Park City (Utah) Ward.
Each week class members have their own private audience with the president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, one of the highest profile figures in the world.
"We sang. We all cried," he said, beginning the class by recapping the events of a week earlier when spectators near the site of the World Trade Center tragedy spontaneously began singing "God Bless America."
Brother Romney was named president of SLOC in February 1999 at a time when the financial status of the Games was "circling the drain." He began cutting costs and trimming the budget. He then pounded the pavement to enlist corporate sponsors.
From humble status to consummate expert
"From humble status as a novitiate in the Olympic world just three years ago," wrote Ed Hula, editor of an Atlanta-based newsletter that covers the Olympics called Around the Rings, Romney has become a consummate expert on how to run a Winter Olympics in the 21st Century. He knows how to cut budgets, raise money from public and private sources against daunting odds and, in the end, stage enviable Games."
Leading a discussion based on Isaiah 5, Brother Romney asked how the world can confuse good for evil. "The Church teaches the need to work, while the world seeks a life of ease," he said as an example.
He then told how his father, George W. Romney, three-time governor of Michigan, taught him to work.
"My dad would go with us to shovel the driveway at unearthly hours," he said. "It was a long, sweeping driveway with a parking area.
"Only later, after we were raised, did I realize that my father could have hired a company to shovel the snow, which he did after we moved away.
"He wanted to teach us to work. And we did it with him, working and sweating. It left an imprint."
The effectiveness of Brother Romney's teachings, said Bishop Mark Lisonbee, is that he knows how to relate gospel principles to everyday living in a very entertaining, easily digestible way.
"His quality of teaching and his genuine sense of care" led to four baptisms, Bishop Lisonbee said.
"Mitt and his wife, Ann, are the first to volunteer. If we're short of deacons, he's quick to pass the sacrament. They are genuine. They really care about people."
That sense of genuine care helped Alison Strauss gain her testimony. "I don't know if I would have had that softening of heart without Brother Romney's class," she said.
In October 2000, just a few days before the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games, Brother Romney flew from Sydney, Australia, to Boston, Mass., to attend the dedication of the temple.
While he needed to be in Australia for the closing ceremonies, he felt it more important to attend the dedication. With no time to rest following a 24-hour flight, he was among the throng waiting in line early that morning for the dedication.
"My commitment to my Church and faith is all encompassing," he said. "The opportunity to attend a temple dedication in the presence of a prophet in my hometown, where I served as stake president and bishop, is an opportunity that I would never miss.
Brother Romney has "worked hard to avoid anything that could be seen as polarizing, or that would promote my faith over anyone else's. It is important to me to have all faiths represented in the Games."
What the Games mean for members of the Church
For members of the Church, Brother Romney believes the Games will mean two things.
"First," he said, "the Olympic Games are one of the greatest demonstrations of the great qualities of human character. For Church members it's an opportunity for parents and grandparents to bring their families together and watch as great athletes showcase the human qualities of perseverance, sacrifice, work, dedication, teamwork, patriotism and sportsmanship.
"Experience it. See it. Get as close to it as you can," he said. "Young people from around the world will demonstrate some of the great qualities of humanity and of God's children. Here is opportunity to 'Light the Fire Within,' as the Olympic motto states, to inspire us to reach greater heights."
The second aspect, said Brother Romney, is the sense of unity that comes from cheering and appreciating other cultures and countries.
"The Olympics are very different from college and professional sports," he said. "You cheer for the athletes of all countries. Connecting with a crowd composed of other cultures and countries is one of the thrills of the Olympic experience.
Look for Olympics to be unifying
"I think people in Utah will be particularly international and hospitable and generous in sharing with people of other nations," he said. "We have links to the world which I think will be seen by the world when they come.
"Look for the Olympics to be unifying. We are told 3 billion people will watch the opening ceremonies. They will watch nations come together in a peaceful manner. They will learn of our culture. In so doing, the world will draw together and barriers will be torn down.
"Our community will also be unified," Brother Romney continued. "I think having 24,500 volunteers spend 17 days together in the cold, wet difficult conditions will build ties across communities, across faiths and ethnic groups, and will foster understanding and respect."
Characterized by the media as the cavalry coming to the rescue, Brother Romney has created Olympic Games that are funded, where security is prepared and where Utahns are rapidly warming to the excitement of the Olympics.