July 8th, 2021


George Romney's Birthday

By coincidence, two of the leading contenders for the 1968 Republican nomination for President were born on this day, July 8th. Neither won the nomination, but both led in the race at one time, according to polling. Both are shown in the right in this picture, although, both were considered to the left of the political spectrum within their party.


George Wilcken Romney was the son of Gaskell Romney and Anna Amelia Pratt, two American citizens from Utah who were married in Mexico. Their son George was born in Colonia Dublán in Galeana in the state of Chihuahua, one of the Mormon colonies in Mexico), on July 8, 1907 (114 years ago today). After the Mexican Revolution broke out, the Romney family returned to the United States in July 1912, leaving their property behind. Romney grew up in humble circumstances, living on government relief in El Paso, Texas. They moved to Los Angeles, California, where Gaskell Romney worked as a carpenter. In 1913, the family moved to Oakley, Idaho, where they grew potatoes. The farm failed when potato prices fell and the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1916, returning to Idaho, the following year.

In high school, Romney met his future wife Lenore LaFount. He attended Latter-day Saints University to be close to her, where he was elected student body president. He worked as a Mormon missionary and in October 1926, he sailed to Great Britain where he worked in a Glasgow, Scotland, slum. In February 1927, he went to work in Edinburgh and in February 1928 to London. He returned home in 1928 and studied at the University of Utah and LDS Business College. He followed his fiancee to Washington, D.C., in fall 1929, after her father, Harold A. Lafount, had accepted an appointment by President Calvin Coolidge to serve on the Federal Radio Commission. Romney worked for Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senator David I. Walsh during 1929 and 1930, first as a stenographer, then as a staff aide.

When Lenore LaFount began accepting small roles in Hollywood movies as an actress, Romney moved to Los Angeles office to work for Alcoa as a salesman. He attended night classes at the University of Southern California. The couple returned to Washington where Romney worked for Alcoa as a lobbyist. The Romneys were married on July 2, 1931, at Salt Lake City Temple. They had four children together, and Mitt Romney was their youngest child.

After nine years with Alcoa, Romney changed careers, taking a job with the Automobile Manufacturers Association as manager for its Detroit office. Romney moved his family there in 1939. In 1942, he was promoted to general manager of the association, a position he held until 1948. On May 1, 1954, the Nash-Kelvinator automobile company merged with Hudson Motor Car to become the American Motors Corporation (AMC). It was the largest merger in the history of the industry, and Romney was hired to be the executive vice president of the new firm. In October 1954, when the company's president died suddenly, Romney was named AMC's president and chairman of the board.

Romney proved to be a successful executive. By the end of 1957 Romney had phased out the Nash and Hudson brands, whose sales had been lagging. AMC pursued an innovative strategy of manufacturing only compact cars. The company struggled badly at first, and Romney instituted company-wide savings and efficiency measures included reducing his and other executive salaries. He fended off a corporate takeover just as sales of the Rambler finally took off, leading to unexpected financial success for AMC in 1958. Sales remained strong during 1960 and 1961; the Rambler was America's third most popular car both years. AMC's resurgence made Romney famous and the Associated Press named Romney its Man of the Year in Industry for four consecutive years, 1958 through 1961. The company's stock rose from $7 per share to $90 per share, making Romney very wealthy due to stock options. He had a good relationship with United Automobile Workers leader Walter Reuther and AMC workers benefited from a new profit-sharing plan.

Romney was exemplary in following the beliefs of his religion. He did not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, and did not smoke, or swear. He and his wife tithed, and from 1955 to 1965, gave 19 percent of their income to the church and another 4 percent to charity. He was active in a number of charities and was on the board of directors of the Children's Hospital of Michigan and the United Foundation of Detroit. In 1959, he received the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith's Americanism award.

Romney became directly involved in politics in 1959. He declared himself a member of the Republican Party and in 1962 he resigned as President of AMC in February to run for Governor of Michigan. He ran against incumbent Democratic Governor John B. Swainson in the general election and won by over 80,000 votes, ending a fourteen-year stretch of Democratic rule in the state.As governor he proposed a comprehensive tax revision package that included a flat-rate state income tax, but general economic prosperity prompted the Michigan Legislature to reject the measure.

Romney supported the American Civil Rights Movement as governor. During his first State of the State address in January 1963, he said "Michigan's most urgent human rights problem is racial discrimination—in housing, public accommodations, education, administration of justice, and employment." Romney created the state's first civil rights commission. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Detroit in June 1963 and led the 120,000 person Great March on Detroit, Romney designated the occasion Freedom March Day in Michigan. His support for civil rights brought him criticism from some in his own church.

In the 1964 U.S. presidential election, Senator Barry Goldwater quickly became the likely Republican Party nominee. Goldwater represented a segment of the party that Romney was not a part of. He disagreed strongly with Goldwater's views on civil rights. During the June 1964 National Governors' Conference, 13 of 16 Republican governors present were opposed to Goldwater. Despite this, Romney kept his pledge to stay out of the nomination contest. At the Republican convention, Romney fought for a strengthened civil rights plank in the party platform, but it was defeated on a voice vote. In the 1964 election, Romney refused to campaign with the national ticket. He was re-elected as Governor in 1964 by a margin of over 380,000 votes.

In 1965, Romney visited South Vietnam for 31 days and said that he was continuing his strong support for U.S. military involvement there. During 1966, while son Mitt was away in France on missionary work, George Romney guided Mitt's fiancée Ann Davies in her conversion to Mormonism. He continued his support of civil rights and after violence broke out during the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, he marched at the front of a Detroit parade in solidarity with the marchers. In 1966, he won re-election again by 527,000 votes and his share of the black vote rose to over 30 percent, virtually unprecedented for a Republican.

On July 23, 1967, the 12th Street riot in Detroit began in a predominantly black neighborhood. Romney called in the Michigan State Police and the Michigan National Guard to address the riot and on July 24, Romney and Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh requested that federal troops be sent. On July 24, President Lyndon Johnson authorized thousands of paratroopers to enter Detroit. In the disturbance 43 people died, over a thousand were injured, 2,500 stores were looted, hundreds of homes were burned, and there was $50 million in property damage. Romney believed the White House had intentionally slowed its response because Johnson saw Romney as a potential election rival in 1968. He charged Johnson with having "played politics" in his actions.

A Gallup Poll after the 1964 election showed Romney as the leading Republican candidate for president in 1968. A Harris Poll showed Romney besting President Johnson among all voters by 54 percent to 46 percent. Romney announced an exploratory phase for a possible campaign in February 1967. Romney's greatest weakness was a lack of foreign policy expertise. But as the campaign progressed, Romney's national poll ratings began to erode. Questions were asked about Romney's eligibility to run for President owing to his birth in Mexico, given the uncertainty in the United States Constitution over the phrase "natural-born citizen".

His biggest campaign gaffe occurred on August 31, 1967, in a taped interview with talk show host Lou Gordon of WKBD-TV in Detroit. Romney told his host: "When I came back from Vietnam in November 1965, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." While he had once supported the war effort, he now opposed it. He aid "I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression in Southeast Asia." He called for "a sound peace in South Vietnam at an early time." The "brainwashing" comment attracted significant criticism. Eight other governors who had been on the same trip as Romney took offense to the remark. The connotations of brainwashing made Romney's comment politically devastating, and it became television talk show fodder. Senator Eugene McCarthy, running against Johnson for the Democratic nomination, said that in Romney's case, "a light rinse would have been sufficient." After the remark was aired, Romney's poll ratings nosedived, going from 11 percent behind Nixon to 26 percent behind.

Romney persevered, going on a three-week, 17-city tour of the nation's ghettos and disadvantaged areas. This failed to rehabilitate his campaign. His release of his federal tax returns was a first and established a precedent that many future presidential candidates would follow. He spent the following months campaigning tirelessly, focusing on the New Hampshire primary. He returned to Vietnam in December 1967 and made speeches and proposals on the subject. Two weeks before the March 12 primary, an internal poll showed Romney losing to Nixon by a six-to-one margin in New Hampshire. This led Romney to announce his withdrawal as a presidential candidate on February 28, 1968. Nixon went on to gain the nomination.

At the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Romney refused to release his delegates to Nixon. Romney finished a weak fifth, with only 50 votes on the roll call. Romney's name was placed into nomination for vice president by New York Mayor John Lindsay. Romney lost to Spiro Agnew by a vote of 1,119–186. Romney, however, worked for Nixon's campaign in the fall.

After the election, Nixon named Romney to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Romney was confirmed by the Senate without opposition on January 20, 1969, the day of Nixon's inauguration and was sworn into office on January 22, with Nixon at his side. Romney resigned as Governor of Michigan that same day.

Romney was largely outside the president's inner circle and had minimal influence within the Nixon administration. By early 1970, Nixon had decided he wanted Romney removed from his post and he tried to get Romney to run in the 1970 U.S. Senate race in Michigan. Instead, George came up with the idea of his wife Lenore running. She lost badly in the general election to incumbent Democrat Philip A. Hart.

In spring 1972, a major scandal struck the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which had been responsible for helping the poor buy homes in inner-city areas through government-backed mortgages. A number of FHA employees were indicted for a scheme in which the value of cheap inner city homes was inflated and sold using those government-backed mortgages to buyers who could not really afford them. The government was stuck for the bad loans when owners defaulted. The FHA scandal gave Nixon the ability to shut down HUD's remaining desegregation efforts.

Romney finally did resign from the Nixon Cabinet on November 9, 1972, following Nixon's re-election. His departure was announced on November 27, 1972. After he left the cabinet, Romney became chair and CEO of the National Center for Voluntary Action. In April of 1991 Romney was honored by President George H. W. Bush's Points of Light program when he received the Points of Light Foundation's inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from President Bush in April 1991. Bush wanted Romney to chair the new foundation, but he declined the offer, and suggested Bush's organization merge with his. They did so in September 1991, and Romney became one of the founding directors of the Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center National Network.

Romney campaigned for his son, Mitt Romney, during his son's bid to unseat Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the 1994 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. That same year, Ronna Romney, Romney's ex-daughter-in-law (formerly married to G. Scott Romney), decided to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from Michigan. Mitt and G. Scott endorsed Ronna Romney, but George Romney had endorsed her opponent. A family spokesperson said that George Romney had endorsed Abraham before knowing Ronna Romney would run and could not go back on his word.

On July 26, 1995, Romney died of a heart attack at the age of 88 while he was doing his morning exercising on a treadmill at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He was buried at the Fairview Cemetery in Brighton, Michigan. In addition to his wife and children, Romney was survived by 23 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.

The other GOP presidential hopeful from 1968 was Nelson Rockefeller. We'll discuss him in the next article.

Nelson Rockefeller's Birthday

The other moderate (or some would even say "liberal" Republican who was born on this day was Nelson Rockefeller, the former New York Governor and Vice-President, who was born on July 8, 1908 (113 years ago today). Nelson Rockefeller was the poor little rich guy who, even in the 1960s, was too moderate for the Republican Party. He wanted to be President, but only made it to the Vice President's chair, with a little help from a resigning Richard Nixon.


He was born Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller on July 8, 1908 in Bar Harbor, Maine, son of the famous John Davison Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He was the grandson of Standard Oil founder and chairman John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. and United States Senator Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, a Republican from Rhode Island. He was the third child in a family that included a sister Abby (1903–1976) and four brothers: John D. 3rd (1906–1978), Laurance S. (1910–2004), Winthrop (1912–1973), and David (1915–). In 1930, he graduated with a degree in economics from Dartmouth College and from there he went on to worked in a number of family businesses, including Chase National bank (later Chase Manhattan), the Rockefeller Center Inc., and Creole Petroleum, the Venezuelan subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey. He and his four brothers established the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a philanthropic organization and he became its president in 1956.

He became fluent in Spanish and in 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the new position of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, in which he was charged with overseeing a program of U.S. cooperation with the nations of Latin America. In 1944 President Roosevelt appointed Rockefeller Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs. Rockefeller was a member of the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Conference on International Organization at San Francisco in 1945, a gathering which marked the UN's founding. Rockefeller was also instrumental in persuading the UN to establish its headquarters in New York City. After a brief hiatus from government, in 1950 President Harry S. Truman appointed him Chairman of the International Development Advisory Board. In 1954 he was appointed Special Assistant to the President for Foreign Affairs by Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1956, he created the Special Studies Project, a major seven-panel planning group directed by Henry Kissinger and funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. This led to a lifelong relationship with Kissinger. Rockefeller resigned federal service in 1956 to focus on New York state politics. In 1958, he was elected Governor of New York by over 600,000 votes, defeating the incumbent, Averell Harriman, even though 1958 was a banner year for Democrats elsewhere in the nation. Rockefeller was ultimately elected to four consecutive four-year terms as governor of New York State, getting re-elected in 1962, 1966 and 1970. He resigned three years into his fourth term to work at the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans. Rockefeller has the ninth longest gubernatorial tenure in U.S. history at 5,466 days. Under his governorship, the state's education system grew from 29 campuses and 38,000 full-time students to 72 campuses and 232,000 full-time students. His administration quadrupled state aid to primary and secondary schools and it provided the first state financial support for educational television and required special education for children with disabilities in public schools.He also began expansion of the New York State Parks system and his administration built or started 55 new state parks. Rockefeller ordered studies of environmental issues and he launched the Pure Waters Program, the first state bond issue to combat water pollution.

In 1967 Rockefeller won approval of the largest state bond issue at the time ($2.5 billion) for the creation and expansion of over 22,000 miles of highway including the Long Island Expressway, the Southern Tier Expressway, the Adirondack Northway, and Interstate 81. He created the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 1965. The MTA merged the New York City subway system with the publicly owned Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the Long Island Rail Road, Staten Island Rapid Transit, and later the Metro North Railroad.

In the area of public assistance the Rockefeller administration carried out the largest state medical care program in the United States under Medicaid. His administration achieved the first major decline in New York State's welfare rolls since World War II and it began the state breakfast program for children in low income areas and established the first state loan fund for nonprofit groups to start day-care centers.

Rockefeller's administration also outlawed job discrimination based on gender or age. It increased by nearly 50% the number of African Americans and Hispanics holding state jobs and appointed women to head the largest number of state agencies in state history. It passed laws prohibiting discrimination against women in education, employment, housing and credit applications and admitted the first women to the State Police. He backed New York's ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

During his time as governor Rockefeller doubled the size of the state police and established the New York State Police Academy.He appointed 228 additional state judgeships to reduce court congestion. In 1963 Rockefeller signed legislation abandoning the mandatory death penalty, although Rockefeller was a supporter of capital punishment and oversaw 14 executions by electrocution as Governor. The execution of Eddie Mays in 1963 remains the last execution in New York. Despite his personal support for capital punishment, Rockefeller signed a bill in 1965 to abolish the death penalty except in cases involving the murder of police officers.

In 1962, he proposed a program of voluntary rehabilitation for addicted convicts rather than prison time. By 1966 it was evident that this program was not working, as most addicts chose short prison terms rather than three years of treatment. Rockefeller turned this into a program of compulsory treatment, rehabilitation, and aftercare for three years, but it did little to reduce the drug trade in the state. He passed some of the toughest drug laws in the United States.

Rockefeller supported reform of New York's abortion laws, proposing exceptions allowed for the protection of the mother's health, or in circumstances of fetal abnormality. The reform bills did not pass, but eventually an outright repeal of the prohibition against abortions passed in 1970, and in 1972, he vetoed another bill that would have restored the abortion ban, saying "I do not believe it right for one group to impose its vision of morality on an entire society."

Rockefeller sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1960, 1964, and 1968. His bid in 1960 was ended early when Richard Nixon surged ahead in the polls. After quitting the campaign, Rockefeller backed Nixon, and concentrated his efforts on introducing more moderate planks into Nixon's platform. He was considered the front-runner for the 1964 campaign against conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, but in 1963, a year after divorcing his first wife, Rockefeller married Margaretta "Happy" Murphy, a divorcee with four children. The divorce hurt Rockefeller's standing among Republicans. The birth of Rockefeller's child during the California campaign put the divorce and remarriage issue back in the headlines and he dropped out of the race after losing the California primary. At the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in July, right wing delegates booed and heckled Rockefeller for 16 minutes while he stood firmly at the podium insisting on his right to speak. Rockefeller refused to support Goldwater in the general election. This animosity between Rockefeller and Goldwater would be remembered by Goldwater, who would subsequently vote against Rockefeller's confirmation for the Vice Presidency in 1974 and who would block Rockefeller from being on the 1976 presidential ticket.

Rockefeller again sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. His opponents were Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Nixon easily defeated both Reagan and Rockefeller, however.


Following Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974, President Gerald Ford nominated Rockefeller on August 20 to serve as Vice President of the United States. Ford believed that Rockefeller would bring executive expertise to the administration and broaden the ticket's appeal if they ran in 1976. Rockefeller accepted the position with some reluctance, saying that he was "not built to be standby equipment." Ford's promised to make him "a full partner" in his presidency, especially in domestic policy. Rockefeller underwent hearings before Congress, where it was revealed he made massive gifts to senior aides, such as Henry Kissinger, and used his personal fortune to finance a scurrilous biography of political opponent Arthur Goldberg. He owed nearly one million dollars in federal income taxes, but he was confirmed nevertheless, even though conservative Republicans were not pleased. Besides Goldwater, Jesse Helms and Trent Lott voted against him.

Rockefeller took the oath of office on Thursday, December 19, 1974. He was the second person appointed vice president under the 25th Amendment (Ford was the first). The opposition to Rockefeller within the party caused Ford to renege on his promise of sharing power with his vice president. Rockefeller was excluded from the decision making process on many important issues. When he learned that Ford had proposed cuts in federal taxes and spending he said: "This is the most important move the president has made, and I wasn't even consulted."

While Rockefeller was vice president, the official vice presidential residence was established at Number One Observatory Circle on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory. Prior vice presidents had been responsible for maintaining their own homes at their own expense, but the necessity of massive full-time Secret Service security had made this impractical. Rockefeller's wealth enabled him to donate millions of dollars of furnishings to the house.

In November 1975, Rockefeller told Ford that he would not run for election in 1976. At the 1976 Republican National Convention, Ford felt pressure from the conservative wing of the party decided to choose the more conservative Bob Dole from Kansas as his running mate, instead of Rockefeller. Reagan and Goldwater did not want Rockefeller on the ticket. To date, Ford is the last president to not have his vice president as his running mate. Ford later said not choosing Rockefeller was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made. Rockefeller campaigned actively for the Republican ticket. In what would become an famous photo from the campaign, Rockefeller famously responded to hecklers at a rally in Binghamton, New York with a raised middle finger.


Rockefeller died on January 26, 1979, at age 70 from a heart attack. An initial report had incorrectly said that he was at his office at Rockefeller Center working and a security guard found him slumped over his desk. However Rockefeller actually had the fatal heart attack in another office he owned in a townhouse at 13 West 54th Street in the presence of Megan Marshack, an aide. After the heart attack, Marshack called her friend, news reporter Ponchitta Pierce, to the townhouse, and Pierce phoned an ambulance. There was speculation in the press regarding the possibility of an intimate relationship between Rockefeller and Marshack. Neither Marshack nor the Rockefeller family has commented on the rumor.