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Recalling mission time with Romney

Dr. Mulloy Hansen, center, talks to Mitt Romney when Romney stopped in Seattle earlier this year for a fundraiser.
Dr. Mulloy Hansen, center, talks to Mitt Romney when Romney stopped in Seattle earlier this year for a fundraiser.

Candidate, Lewiston physician shared apartment in France

Mulloy Hansen had been a Mormon missionary in France for just a few months in early 1967 when he got word he was getting a new roommate and partner to seek converts in a working-class section of Paris.

The 19-year-old Canadian teenager, who’d spent part of his life on a farm in Alberta, knew only a little about his new mission partner: He was the new leader for that district of the Mormon mission to France. He was a bit older, and had been in France about eight months longer. His father was a former Detroit auto executive who’d become a governor.

His new mission partner’s name: Mitt Romney.

Hansen wasn’t sure what to expect at that first meeting.

“I was incredibly impressed by him, in terms of his humility,” Hansen, now a family physician in Lewiston, recalled recently. Although Romney was the new district leader, he didn’t come in with an authoritarian attitude. “In our first conversation, he said, ‘You know the area. You tell me what we need to do.’ ”

Nearly a half-century later, Hansen said he saw strong leadership qualities and people skills early on in the man who now is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. They talked sometimes about Romney’s father’s presidential campaign – at the time, George Romney had not yet dropped out of the 1968 GOP race – but Hansen didn’t know very much about American politics.

“I distinctly recall Mitt saying one of his goals was to become president of the United States. But that’s one of those things that kids say. I didn’t think it was very likely.”

Romney had moved into the fourth-floor walkup apartment that he would share for months with Hansen and two other young missionaries. The toilet, shared with two other apartments, was across the hall. The “shower” consisted of four hooks on which they would hang a plastic curtain to direct water from an overhead spray into a small tub. “When the tub was full, your shower was over,” Hansen said.

They had a small kitchen, about 4 feet by 12 feet, with a hot plate but no refrigerator. They shopped for food each day and took turns cooking a week at a time. Hansen recalls Romney being a pretty good cook.

Most of their days – from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with an hour or so off at midday for lunch – were spent in pairs, knocking on doors and seeking converts to the Mormon faith in traditionally Catholic France.

“We had a lot of success in talking to people,” Hansen said. The mission headquarters kept track of the missionaries’ activities, and one bulletin that spring said the team of Romney and Hansen led the mission in meetings.

But they didn’t make many converts. Many of the residents of the arrondissement, or city ward, would open their doors to the two young foreigners and talk for a while, if only for a chance to practice their English. “From a religious standpoint, the response was pretty meager,” Hansen said.

A tough sell

France is historically and culturally Catholic, even if many of its citizens don’t actively practice that faith, Hansen said. For many, changing from the Catholic faith would be giving up family traditions. And Mormonism, with its prohibitions on alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, was a tough sell in a land of red wine, Galois cigarettes and espresso. At the time, there were perhaps 4,000 Mormons in the whole country, he estimated.

Since that time, the religion has gained a foothold and the Mormons are building a temple at Versailles, Hansen added.

In the mid ’60s, there was also growing animosity among the French and other Europeans toward Americans for the war in Southeast Asia. “About every newscast was the horrors of Vietnam,” he said.

The missionaries tried to be friendly, and most of the French were, too, Hansen said. From time to time, they’d be yelled at, but he doesn’t recall any violent confrontations. “The French will get in your face, but they’ll rarely throw a punch.”

What impressed him the most about Romney, Hansen said, was his ability to treat people equally. “He was able to relate to people, whether it was a physician or a street cleaner, and show them the same kind of respect.”

Recent news stories that suggest Romney once cut the hair of a high school classmate who was suspected of being gay don’t match the Romney that Hansen knew in Paris, he said. He hadn’t heard of the stories until a reporter mentioned them, but said that kind of activity “would be so unlike” his former mission partner.

With his strong leadership and people skills, Hansen sensed that Romney had a bright future. Although he didn’t think his mission partner would run for president, he did expect Romney, whom he described as honorable and kind, to make his mark as a leader at something.

“He doesn’t expect anybody he leads to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.”

Separate ways

After about three months, Hansen was reassigned to Cherbourg on the north coast of France. Romney remained in the fourth-floor walkup for much of 1967, but eventually he was assigned as the executive assistant to the president of the mission, Duane Anderson. He was in that job in June 1968 when he was driving a car carrying Anderson, his wife, Leola, and three others. They were hit head-on by another car.

Leola Anderson was killed, Duane Anderson was seriously injured and Romney was knocked unconscious for so long that the first policeman on the scene wrote “he’s dead” in Romney’s passport. After recovering from his injuries, Romney was promoted to a leadership position in the mission when Duane Anderson returned to the United States. He held that job about six months, and when Romney returned to the States, Hansen was assigned to mission headquarters, although not in Romney’s job.

Hansen returned to Canada after his 2  1/2-year stint, went to college and then medical school, and became a family doctor.

He moved to the U.S. and practiced in Bellevue, Wash., from 1981 to 2009, and he became a naturalized American citizen. Three years ago he moved to Lewiston, where he’s the lead provider at the Community Health Association of Spokane clinic.

When Romney entered his first political campaign, a 1994 run against U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, Hansen and his wife, Jeanne, went to Massachusetts to help out. They supported Romney’s presidential bid in 2008, but Hansen was slightly surprised when Romney entered this year’s race.

“A good friend in Washington said (Romney) was very discouraged with the reaction in the South to his religion in 2008,” he said.

This year the Hansens went as Romney supporters to their county caucus, which went for Romney by one vote, and attended a Seattle fundraiser where the candidate saw him in a crowd and gave Hansen a big hug. That may be the extent of their active campaigning, although the Lewiston physician has volunteered to be on a health care task force the national campaign is organizing.

And if his former mission partner wins in November and is inaugurated next January? “I certainly plan to attend.”

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