George W. Romney was born July 8, 1907 in Colonia Dublán, Chihuahua, Mexico. His parents were Gaskell Romney (1877-1955, son of Miles Park Romney and Hannah Hood Hill) and Anna Marie Pratt Romney (1876-1926, daughter of Helaman Pratt and Anna Johanna Dorothy "Dora" Wilcken Pratt). All residents of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico.
Mother, Anna Amelia Pratt Romney with George in 1908 and Father, Gaskell Romney 1871-1955
According to a Romney family legend they are descended from the fourth-century slayer of dragons, St. George, the patron saint of England. The Detroit Free Press reported a 1959 speech of the American Motors executive under the headlines, "Sir Romney Challenges 'Dragons'." The legend continues adding that early settlers in southern Utah named a town in Washington County near the Arizona border "St. George". Gaskell Romney was one of the Romney's born in St. George, Utah.
An 18th century ancestor of George Romney's family is the famous portrait painter, also named George Romney. He was one of the three famous painters of that era, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborought, and George Romney (1734-1802, Dalton-on-Furness, Lancashire,England).
George's great-grandfather, Miles Romney born at Dalton-in-Furness in 1806 was a carpenter who specialized in circular stair building, emigrated to America. He and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell Romney, were attracted by a street meeting of Orson Hyde, one of the first Mormon missionaries to England, and in 1839 were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).
With other converts from Preston and Manchester, they sailed February 7, 1841 from Liverpool for New Orleans in the Sheffield. There were 235 aboard. The voyage required fifty-one days and was marked by three deaths and an attempted mutiny. The passengers helped quell this and conducted religious services en route. From New Orleans they traveled by boat up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, Illinois at that time the largest city in the state thanks to Mormon thrift and industry. When Chicago had a population of only five thousand, Nauvoo had more than twenty thousand.
There they traded a paisley shawl for a small house and Miles Romney worked on the Nauvoo temple then under construction. On August 18, 1843 their third son was born and named Miles Park Romney. The next summer an angry mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith, the Mormon church leaders, in a jail at Carthrage, Illinois. By 1846 the persecuted Mormons, led by Brigham Young began their great overland trek from Illinois to Utah. The Romney's were too poor to make the long journey at once. They moved first to Burlington, Iowa then to St. Louis, Missouri where all had smallpox, and next to Council Bluffs, Iowa. They left there in March 1850, and traveled by ox team to Salt Lake City, where they arrived on October 13. George's grandfather, seven-year-old Miles Park Romney walked much of the way. His father became foreman of the public workshop in Salt Lake City, visited England as a missionary, and helped to settle St. George, Utah. There he directed building of a redstone tabernacle and in 1877 was fatally hurt when he fell from a third story window while working on it.
Miles son, Miles Park Romney followed him as a carpenter and builder, as a missionary to England, and as a colonizer in St. George. On May 10,1862, Miles Park Romney married (1) Hannah Hood Hill, who like himself had made the long journey from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City as a child. Miles Park Romney embraced the Mormon practice of polygamy.
On March 23, 1867 Miles married (2) Caroline Lambourne.
On September 15, 1873 Miles married (3) Catherine Jane Cottam.
On August 1, 1877 Miles married (4) Alice Marie "Annie" Woodbury.
On February 2, 1897 Miles married (5) Emily "Millie" Henrietta Eyring Snow.
When the U.S. Congress outlawed polygamy in 1885, Miles Park Romney, three of his wives and their children were living in St. Johns, Arizona. He was a contractor and builder, had a contract for hauling mail and was editor and publisher of the Orion Era a local weekly newspaper. Overnight Miles was reduced from the leading citizen of the commuity to a hounded and hunted man by the U.S. Marshalls.. Miles and many other polygamous men sought asylum in Mexico.
During this time Helaman Pratt, son of Parley Parker Pratt, early Mormon church leader and missionary, was the Mormon mission president in Mexico City. Helaman presented a copy of the Book of Mormon to Mexican President Porfirion Diaz and became a frequent guest at Chapultepec Castle. Helaman Pratt and other leaders obtained permission fro Diaz for Miles Park Romney and other Mormon refugees to buy lands and establish colonies in Mexico. Partly with funds advanced by the Church, they purchased large, mostly undevelped tracts in Sonora and Chihuahua known as the Mormon Colonies.
In 1890 the Mormon authorities began a ban on the controversial practice of plural marriage.
Helaman Pratt bought a tract of land in the Sierra Madre Mountains which he named Cliff Ranch. Helaman and Miles Park Romney and part of their families jointly occupied the ranch. It was a beautiful but lonely place where subsequent tenants were massacred by Apache Indians. During this time one of George's father, Gaskell Romney became acquainted with one of Helaman Pratt's ten daughters, Anna Amelia Pratt. After a year at Cliff Ranch Miles moved back into Colonia Juarez to resume his trade of carpenter and builder.
Gaskell, as a boy of fourteen, had helped drive the horses when his mother Hannah Hill Hood Romney and some of her other children made their way from Arizona into Mexico in 1886. They braved snowstorms and at one point Gaskell removed shoes from U.S. Army horses slain by Indians for use on their own poorly shod horses. A carpenter in the family traditon, he helped his father at cliff Ranch and also returned to the United Staes to study. After a year at the old Latter-day Saints College in Salt Lake City, he returned and married Miss Pratt on February 20, 1895 in Colonia Juarez. The couple lived first in Casas Grandes but soon moved to Colonia Dublan.
Their first son, Gaskell Maurice Romney, but known by the latter name to distinguish him from his father, was born October 20, 1897. A second boy, Douglas Pratt, was born in 1899. The next year the father was assigned to a Mormon mission in Pennsylvania and New York. During his two-year absence, the young wife sent him funds and supported herself and two sons by making peanut brittle and cream filled candies for stores in Colonia Dublan, Casas Grandes and elsewhere.
Gaskel Romney prospered on his return to Colonia Dublan, Casas Grandes, he made furniture, built houses, and set up a planing mill which was the only one in a wide area. He supplied sash and doors to the colonists, to mining companies and to the ranches of the largest Chihuahuan cattle and land owner, Luis Terrazas.
A third son, Miles Pratt Romney was born October 8, 1903 in Colonia Dublan, and to house his growing family Gaskell built a handsome two-story brick house, the most substantial in Colonia Dublan and one which still was standing half a century later. In this house a fourth son, George Wilcken Romney, the future president of American Motors, was ushered into the world on July 8, 1907 by Aunt Aggie Thurber, a cousin of the Pratt family. As Gaskell and his family had retained their American citizenship, experts on constitutional law believe citizenship would not have been a reason to keep him from running for U.S. President.
The Romney family was largely self-sufficent. Anna Romney baked bread and cooked or prepared everything everything to feed the famly. She also made all her own clothes, being talented enough to work from pictures in fashion magazines, all of the boys' clothes and even some of her husband's. The father cut the boys' hair and made virtually everything required. He made baseballs and bats for them and organized a baseball team on which he was catcher. This team defeated one sponsored by Henry Eyring Bowman, a storekeeper who owned the first local automobile, a much rebuilt machine in which he hauled his ballplayers, sometimes even bouncing over the roadless desert as far as El Paso.
The colonies were remarkable communities. They had no crime. There were no saloons but numerous schools, churches, and tithing houses, many of them built by Romney's. The population was large enough by 1895 to organize the Juarez Stake of the Church. Junius Romny, a twenty-nine year old uncle of George W. Romney, was elected president of the Stake in 1908.
George W. Romney's earliest memory was of a train trip with his father to El Paso when he was about four years old. There he saw his first bakery bread - "It tasted like cake" - also his first bottled milk, and saw his first motion picture, an early nickelodeon. It was a devout family and by this time George was praying morning and evening along with his brothers. At breakfast they knelt at the side of their chairs.
The family had a farm about two miles from town in addition to the other enterprises and by the time he was four George was riding a handsome gray horse, Monte, between home and the farm. He fell off Monte one day when riding bareback and was unconscious for four hours. As he regained his senses, his mother left the room to make some ice cream for him. By the time she returned with it, he was again out riding Monte! There were other mishaps among the boys. Miles Pratt Romney was kicked in the face by a horse. His face also was torn when he slipped off the galvanized iron roof of his father's planing mill. He bore the scar for life.
A spark fell one day into the sawdust at the Romney planing mill, smoldered undetected for hours and at midnight burst into flames which destroyed the place. Before it could be rebuilt the Mormons were forced out of the Mormon colonies as a result of the revolution in Mexico.
June 19, 1997
Governor Dedicates Building Honoring Former Governor George W. Romney
Governor John Engler today dedicated the George W. Romney Building in honor of the late Michigan Governor who served for three successful terms and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The building, formerly the Olds Plaza Building, is located at 111. S Capitol, Lansing, Michigan, and houses many of the Governor's and legislative offices.
"Governor Romney's dedication to public service represents the standard to which we should measure against," said Engler. "His commitment to God, country, state and family set an example for all of those who came in contact with him. A towering figure in Michigan and national politics during this century, it is with pride that we call George Romney a son of Michigan and it was a personal honor and privilege to have known him."
George Wilcken Romney, who served as Governor of Michigan from January 1, 1963, until January 22, 1969, distinguished himself in government, business, volunteer service, religion and family life. He was a major force behind the ratification and implementation of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, which he helped draft, and was responsible for pushing through major fiscal and human rights reforms, revitalizing Michigan's business climate, reorganizing state government and improving education at all levels. In 1969, Romney resigned from governorship to serve as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.) in the Nixon administration.
Governor Romney believed deeply in the role of volunteerism in America and, as H.U.D. Secretary, helped form and subsequently led the National Center for Voluntary Action after leaving public life. Romney was very supportive of Civil Rights and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.
Romney was a lifelong and devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and spoke often about the spiritual foundation of his beloved country. He died on July 26, 1995, at the age of 88. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Lenore Emily LaFount Romney, two sons, George Scott Romney (1941) and Willard Mitt Romney (1947); two daughters, Margo Lynn Romney Keenan (1935) and Jane LaFont Romney Robinson (1938); 23 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren. [Lenore has since passed away also]