Two presidential campaigns and 40 years of marriage and child-rearing behind her, Ann Romney finds herself in a surprising place: atop the bestseller lists with her own agenda in first position.
Romney’s new cookbook, “The Romney Family Table,” started as an effort to stitch together family recipes. But at a time when her husband Mitt’s loss in the 2012 campaign was still raw, she began writing and “it just flowed out.” Critics have mocked the book as a study in domestic perfection served on Oscar de la Renta tableware, but Romney said she wanted to show that their life “wasn’t always perfect” and that raising five boys could be more than a little frustrating.
Demand for the book — with its homespun recipes for Mitt’s Meat Loaf Cakes and Banana Trash Pudding — may be partly fueled by curiosity: The book offers a far more intimate portrait of the family’s life than Mitt Romney’s consultants allowed last year. There are plenty of pictures showing Romney’s buttoned-down husband with his perfect coif a mess.
Mitt Romney’s strategists were uncomfortable during both of his presidential runs with stories touching on the family’s Mormon faith, including his work as a bishop of his congregation. Ann Romney plunges into the family’s faith traditions, including their Bible lessons on Christmas Eve and their efforts to “keep the frivolous separated from the sacred” on Easter. (The Romney Easter egg hunt, she writes, is on Saturday; Sunday is reserved as “the day of worship and thanks for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”).
“At this point, nobody is telling me what to say, or not to say, so I’m going to say whatever I feel like saying,” Romney said of her decision to write about their faith.
The stories about raising their sons, she noted, would have been incomplete without delving into their religion: “For me, the faith piece is how we taught our children to be responsible and respectful of others.”
Romney’s family portrait is not entirely without political consideration. Son Josh, who encouraged his mother to write the cookbook, is being pressed by his father’s onetime campaign financiers to run for governor of Utah. Son Matt was courted this summer by some of his father’s donors, who wanted him to jump into the race for mayor of San Diego (he quickly declined). When Massachusetts Republicans were shopping for a candidate in the special election for U.S. Senate this year, they tried to recruit a third son, Tagg.
Romney said her experience negotiating the line between public and private life has shaped her advice to her sons. “Not now,” she advised Josh, warning him against running for office when he has small children. Part of her concern was “the stress on the wife": As a candidate, she said, “you’re not home as much as you should be.... You’re being pulled away in evenings when you should be home reading stories and helping out.”
(The sting of campaign criticism seems to be still with her. One of the upsides of writing, she said, was that it “was another unfiltered way for people to see who we really are. I think a lot of people never really did.”)
With campaigning and writing behind her, Ann Romney, who lives part time in La Jolla, has turned to her own next act, which will be focused on research into neurological diseases related to her 1998 diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. She began delving into the research through her doctor, Howard L. Weiner.
During her checkups with Weiner, who heads the Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “I’d always say ‘Oh, if I were first lady, we are really going to make a big push, to try to push the research over to a new level.’”
When the cookbook idea arose, she decided to dedicate the proceeds to new areas of research into multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Weiner co-directs the center with Dennis J. Selkoe, whose research has focused on mechanisms in the brain that lead to the development of Alzheimer’s. Weiner and Selkoe have been collaborating on developing vaccines for multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
Women with multiple sclerosis would often show up at her campaign events, Romney recalled. “They would be there early; they’d make sure to be at the front so they could see me; and they would often collapse,” she said. Many times, she said, they left in ambulances. “As soon as they saw me they’d fought hard enough; they gave up and they just couldn’t stand up anymore, which is what happens with MS,” she said. “You just run out of energy.”
“It really, really got to me,” she said.
At book events over the last two weeks, the Romneys’ role reversal was clear. Mitt is now the surprise guest in her television appearances — popping up on Jay Leno last week claiming that he came running at the smell of her meatloaf cakes. There are some of the same campaign-style theatrics and he’s still beaming at his wife, but this time he’s handing her the microphone, in the role of supporting player.