I met George Romney not long after the 1987 President’s Volunteer Action Award went to McDonald’s Ronald McDonald House program, a network of homes away from home near children’s hospitals,  to assist families of seriously ill children, and staffed and supported by teams of volunteers. McDonald’s president went to the White House to receive the award from President Reagan and George Romney, founder and chairman of Volunteer, the nation’s leading volunteerism organization, later merged in the Bush’s Points of Light Foundation.

Romney senior scheduled a trip out to McDonald’s headquarters in the fall of 1987, to meet with our president, Ed Rensi, with my boss Dick Starmann and myself to “discuss possible volunteer programs you could build onto your Ronald McDonald presidential award-winning program.” Before Romney’s arrival, and he drove his own car from Detroit to Oak Brook, IL, for the meeting, I briefed Ed on his visitor. Romney was a long-standing McDonald’s fan, and company founder Ray Kroc had personally presented him with “a gold McDonald’s pass for free product” many years before. In the interim, Romney had become chairman of American Motors, Governor of Michigan, and then Secretary of Housing and urban Development under Nixon.

Over lunch at the McDonald’s Lodge, Romney assured Rensi, ” when you build a corporate public image, you help build sales.” McDonald’s discussed creating special restaurant tray liners for National Volunteer Week, the following April, as well as other supporting activities.

Romney, once a Presidential contender himself, had lost momentum to Nixon when after a briefing trip to Vietnam, he alluded to the “brainwashing” he’d received from the generals, and disavowed the war. Romney had been one of the first to resign the Nixon cabinet and distance himself from the emerging Watergate scandal.

When we met him, he was 80 years old, “but walks 8 to 12 miles a day and looks 25 years younger,” I reflected in my briefing memo. Few alive remember that in World War II, Romney was the chief spokesperson for the U.S. auto industry. Just yesterday, Mitt Romney‘s older brother recalled that Mitt was known as a boy for his amazing ability to make realistic auto sounds. With his  automotive history, no wonder George was a fan of McDonald’s drive-in restaurants.

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