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People from Romney's past offer emotional tributes

August 30, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • Pam Finlayson of California addresses the audience at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
Pam Finlayson of California addresses the audience at the Tampa Bay Times… (Stan Honda / AFP/GettyImages )

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Pam and Grant Finlayson moved from California to Massachusetts and didn’t have a dryer, Mitt Romney helped her fold her laundry. When Pam gave birth to a very sick premature daughter, Kate, he prayed over her in the intensive care unit.

“I will never forget that when he looked down tenderly at my daughter, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached out gently and stroked her tiny back,” Finlayson said. “I could tell immediately that he didn't just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her.” That Thanksgiving, Romney and his sons turned up on her family’s doorstep with a home-cooked meal.

Kate died a year and a half ago, at 26, her mother said, and the Romneys were there again.

“In the midst of making the final decision to run for president -- which had to be the most difficult of their lives -- when they heard of Kate's passing, both Mitt and Ann paused, to personally reach out to extend us sympathy and express their love.”

Finlayson told her story Thursday night on the final evening of the Republican National Convention, during a segment of prime-time programming in which several people who worked and worshiped with Romney shared deeply personal stories about the Republican presidential nominee, whose greatest obstacle in this election has often been said to be his inability to seem warm and genuine.

Their stories were among the emotional highlights of the convention, purely personal tales devoid of politics or artifice or the partisan rhetoric that characterize these nominating conventions. As cameras swept the audience of delegates at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, women wept and men removed their glasses and dabbed their eyes.

Pat and Ted Oparowsky told the story of their son, David, who in 1979, at 14, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. During seven months of off-and-on hospitalization, said the couple, Romney often visited David. “They developed a loving friendship,” Pat said.

When Romney learned David loved fireworks, she said, he bought the boy a box of “big time” fireworks that the family set off on some Maine sand dunes. “Through that simple but thoughtful gift, Mitt brought joy to a young boy who hadn't experienced any for too long,” Pat said. “He also gave the rest of us a welcome release.”

But it was another anecdote that really broke hearts on the convention floor, the image of a young boy, knowing he would die, asking Romney to draft his will. He wanted to give his skateboard, model rockets and fishing gear to his best friends, and his Ruger .22 rifle to his brother. “The next time Mitt went to the hospital, he was equipped with his yellow legal pad and pen,” Pat said. “Together, they made David's will. That is a task that no child should ever have to do. But it gave David peace of mind.”

David, who was buried in his Boy Scout uniform, also asked that Romney deliver his eulogy.

“Mitt was there to honor that request. We will be ever grateful to Mitt for his love and concern.”

robin.abcarian@latimes.com
@robinabcarian

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