Mitt Romney opened up about the personal anguish he went through when his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1990s during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
His presidential campaign has deployed Ann Romney on the trail in recent days to give voters a better picture of the candidate’s personal side. His advisers have tried to draw contrasts between Romney and his chief rival, Newt Gingrich, who has been married three times, on the issue of character.
Romney called the diagnosis of the disabling disease the toughest moment of his life.
“We could see that she had real problems and didn’t have feeling in places she should have feeling,” Romney said, recalling neurological tests a doctor performed on his wife. “He stepped out of the room and we stood up and hugged each other and I said to her, ‘As long as it’s not something fatal, I’m just fine.’ Look, I’m happy in life as long as I’ve got my soul mate with me, and Ann is.”
The answer provided a contrast from a week ago when Romney dodged a question about experiencing hardship during an Iowa campaign debate hosted by ABC News.
"I didn't grow up poor. And if somebody is looking for someone who's grown up with that background, I'm — I'm not the person," he said at Drake University last weekend.
On Sunday, Romney opened up about the challenge of his wife's illness. He said it was “really tough for her,” and that she feared that she would no longer be able to perform day-to-day tasks well enough to take care of her family.
The Romneys discussed installing an elevator in their house to help Ann get to the second floor and getting a wheelchair.
“I said, ‘Look, I don’t care what the meals are like. I like cold cereal and peanut butter sandwiches. We could do fine with that, as long as we have each other,’ ” Romney said. “Life is all about the people you love. We can handle disease. Death is a different matter. Death, I don’t know that I can handle death. Disease and hardship we can handle as long as we have the people we love around us.”
Romney said his wife, who has also been treated for breast cancer, has been able to recover most of her health.
The former Massachusetts governor said he first noticed his wife when she was a 15-year-old sophomore attending the same high school.
“She was 15 years old when I really took notice of her. I was a senior and she was a sophomore. I gave her a ride home from a party, she had come with someone else. I kissed her at the door and I’ve been following her ever since,” Romney said.
They have been married for 42 years.
Romney rejected the notion that he is robotic and aloof.
He said it’s not true “in the slightest” that he has a hard time opening up and revealing his emotional side.
“People who know me and who interact with me, understand that I’m an emotional guy, that I have very deep feelings about the country, very great concern about the way it’s being guided at this time by our president,” he said. “As people get to know me better, they’ll get a different impression.”