To a crowd of more than 1,500 people, from business and community leaders to politicians and more, former Massachusetts governor and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney shared a handful of personal memories, including those involving Gov. Leavitt’s love for practical jokes.
It was a wonderful evening as we honored such a great man. As Salt Lake Chamber President & CEO Lane Beattie said, “One of the best things about the Giant In Our City award is the inspiration these Giants give us all–to be better people and to do our part.”
This was Gov. Leavitt’s acceptance speech at the Giant In Our City gala on April 10, 2014.
Shortly after the 2008 election, Jackie and I joined Mitt and Ann, and some other friends for a short stay in a tiny Caribbean country. We were escorted to the customs office. It consisted of single desk in what looked like a warehouse building next to the airport.
While filling out the required papers Mitt came to the blank requiring occupation. He said, “Hmmm, occupation—how should I answer that?”
A member of the group made a suggestion. “Mitt, put—President, searching for a country.”
In about a year, our country will again be searching for a President. If you’re available, I, and countless others, will once again, be at your side.
A few years ago, I represented the United States at international meetings held in Russia. As part of the trip, I met with a member of the Russian Duma (their Congress). It turns out, he was a famous polar explorer. He regaled us with stories of his conquests, and displayed his awards. Let’s just say, he had a big personality.
As we stood to leave, we exchanged business cards. Underneath his name was listed his title: “Hero of the Russian People.” Now there’s a great title. Tomorrow, I’m going to order some new business cards. They will simply say, “Mike Leavitt, Giant In Our City.” How good is that?
So, thank you very much.
In all seriousness, this designation is far more than a great title. It is a singular honor. Being included on the same list as the true giants, who have previously received this honor, is among the most notable and kindest things ever expressed about me.
Your kindness is rightly shared by my wife and partner in everything, Jackie. She is the giant in my life. She is the North Star of our family. She is the person living at our address who most deserving of admiration.
I wish to recognize my children and extended family. They provide me unwavering love and support. A quick story captures a glimpse of their sacrifice.
I had been governor about for about a year. Often I sent the highway patrol security detail home when I had no public duties. An errand needed to be run, so I took our son Chase and we drove to the store in our family’s car. Chase was about eight years old at the time. When we reached the store, he looked around and said, “Daddy, what about the police?” “The police?” I said. “What if the police catch you not working?”
I realized he thought that the highway patrol traveled with his dad to make sure he never quit working. I knew at that moment, my life needed an adjustment.
For a young family, living in the governors’ mansion is an adventure. One day I called the family quarters at the mansion. Westin, who was about three, answered the phone. The conversation went something like this:
“Hello?” “Can I talk to Mom?” “She’s busy.” “What about Anne Marie?” “She’s busy too.” “What are they busy doing?” “Looking for me.”
One summer morning, our teenage sons, asked if it was okay to have a few friends over to the mansion on Friday night to see a boxing match on television. There is a large room in the basement and on nights like that, it was not uncommon to have a big group of their friends over to watch a sporting event of some sort. I would go down and enjoy it with them.
Just after dark, Jackie and drove down South Temple street, returning from an event at the University. From about 9th east I could see this very strange glow on the side of the governor’s mansion. As we got closer I could see that the entire east side of the mansion had been covered in white. The boys had used PVC pipe, rope, old bed sheets and masking tape to create a massive movie screen and draped it over the entire east side of the mansion. It looked like a drive-in movie. I could see boxers that we 30 feet tall all the way from 8th east. As I got closer I could see kids, lots and lots of kids, sitting on the lawn, noisily cheering the fighters.
As we walked up the drive way, I said to the head of the mansion security, “What in the world is going on here?” “Guv,” he said, “the boys said you were okay with this.”
Jackie, not a fight fan, said, “I think you need to handle this.” She retired to the house, only to find our bedroom was now covered by the backlit images of sweaty boxers.
As I got to the backyard, I noticed Mike and Taylor busily working the crowd, and their five year old brother Westin and sister, Anne Marie, at the back gate collecting admissions to cover the cost of pay-per-view. And the kids, well, they just kept coming. By the time the main event arrived, there were hundreds. To their credit, they were noisy but behaved.
I thought—what’s a guy to do at this point? I found a place on the grass and enjoyed what turned out to be a great fight night.
To our son Taylor, a teenager, the mansion was an endless opportunity for practical jokes. He had a very realistic rubber arm he would occasionally use to startle someone. I was okay with that until a particular night when we were entertaining an arts group in the main parlor. A harpist played as people mingled. As I spoke with a rather prominent woman, I could tell from her eyes that she was a bit startled and distracted—eyes focused on the fireplace. As I turned around, there it was, the arm—dangling from chimney.
There’s not much to say at a moment like that. I said, “Do you have teenagers?” The good news was, she did.
It is a tribute to Jackie, that each of our five children weathered the experience and are productive and responsible adults, in whom we are enormously proud. Best of all, they are producing grandchildren, several of whom are here tonight. Likewise, my parents and several of my brothers are here.
Being governor is a wonderful experience. Being a member of the governor’s family sometimes isn’t. They have all endured moments of ironic unfairness and remained wonderfully supportive.
As many of you know, my father’s name is Dixie. He preceded me in Utah politics, representing southern Utah in the legislature for many years. St. George is known as Utah’s Dixie. Early Mormon pioneers thought the area reminded them of the south. The word Dixie has been written in giant white letters across the red rock mesa, visible to the entire town. Tonight, I am prepared to confession that I was 15 years old before I figured out that my Dad didn’t really write his name on that mountain.
Likewise, this audience is peppered with colleagues, legislators, business leaders, supporters and friends I worked side by side with. Thank you for yet another expression of support. I will acknowledge, for all of us, what a remarkable privilege public service is. The best rewards are a sense of accomplishment and friendships. Both last forever.
And of course, I wish to thank the SL Chamber of Commerce, the sponsor of this dinner for choosing to honor me in this way. Lane Beattie, President of the Chamber, requires a special and personal thank you. Over the years, Lane and I have served shoulder to shoulder. For the entire time I was governor, Lane was either majority leader or President of the Utah Senate. As you know, the relationship between governors and legislatures are designed to produce tension. However, in the end, things have to be done, agreement has to be reached. The process requires leaders who have the confidence of their colleagues and a knack for knowing when to facilitate the deal. Many of the things history will point to as shaping the state’s future, Lane Beattie was a major force in making it happen.
The Chamber of Commerce, under Lane’s leadership, and with the support of his remarkable board, has become a powerful influence for good in our state. The organization provides important leadership in this state and a voice of reason.
We have a great state with a proud tradition of success and prosperity. I have come to understand that public leadership is a generation relay.Many of the most profound problems are not ours to solve with finality, but rather to incrementally improve during our temporary stewardship.
The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is a part of the foundation of this great state. Thanks to them for honoring me. Thanks to all of you for attending.