TAMPA--When Mitt Romney takes the stage at the Republican National Convention Thursday night, political observers say there is one thing he must do: share personal stories to humanize himself to the American public.
But the former Massachusetts governor has always been reticent to do that. Romney's wife Ann acknowledged in her speech Tuesday night that "Mitt doesn't like to talk about how he has helped others" but said it was "because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point."
Hours before the high-stakes speech, Whispers sought to get a better picture of the Republican presidential candidate, and spoke to one of the Romney family's closest friends about the Mitt Romney he's come to know.
Paul Gilbert, a law partner in Arizona as well as a Mormon stake president (a role Romney once held), became friends with the Romneys nearly a decade ago when his sons were in school with some of the Romney boys during Romney's Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign.
"They introduced us to Mitt, and frankly, it took," said Gilbert of himself and his wife Susan. Gilbert went on to serve as Romney's Arizona state chair in both of the presidential campaign. "I've been with him for a really long time. Campaigned by his side," he said.
Gilbert says that the Mitt he's come to know, and the Mitt that others don't, is a man who possesses a great sense of humor. He laughs over a memory from a retirement center they stopped at during a fundraising trip from Tucson to Phoenix. When the two men walked out of the center, Gilbert says people began to ask him for his autograph.
"I said 'I'm Paul Gilbert, this is Mitt Romney behind me.' And they said 'It's okay. You must be important if you're with him.' And so I signed signatures and Mitt was behind me laughing. And then he turned to these people and said: 'Who is this guy?' "
Gilbert also describes a man who is very much in love with his wife, a point Ann Romney drove home in her own speech Tuesday night.
Just before a different fundraiser, this one at the Gilbert home, Romney's staff called and told the couple that " 'Mitt is worn out and he needs to rest,' " according to Gilbert. "We were going to put him into one of the bedrooms so he could just lie down and relax. But he said no. He said 'I want to call my wife.' So he got on the phone and talked with her for a full hour instead of resting. And then he came out and gave his speech."
Gilbert's wife, Susan, says her most memorable story about the Romneys is about Ann. After a close friend of the Gilbert's daughter-in-law discovered she had multiple sclerosis, the Gilberts say they called Ann Romney, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1988, to ask if she had five minutes to talk.
"And within five minutes she called her," says Paul Gilbert, who begins to cry. "And she spent an hour with her on the phone giving her encouragement." Susan Gilbert says their daughter-in-law's friend is now in remission.
Gilbert also opens up about Romney's prominent roles as bishop and stake president in the Mormon church, roles Fox News reported that the Obama campaign is considering attacking.
There were "a lot of instances" in which Romney " showed compassion, helped people who were in trouble financially, visited with them," says Gilbert, who estimates that serving as Mormon stake president requires 30 hours of time a week. "He's a very busy guy, but he found the time in his church responsibilities to help people out."
Both Susan and Paul Gilbert say that the American public should not mistake Romney's reserved nature as evidence that he is "cold" or "stiff."
"He's simply a reserved person," says Susan Gilbert. "I think that's very respectable, and commendable for a man who wants to be president."
Paul Gilbert says Romney knows he needs to talk about his personal life in his speech Thursday night, but expects that Americans will hear only "a little bit" from him.
"Mitt doesn't like to talk about those things," Gilbert explains of the GOP nominee's altruism. "Because he just thinks that's what people ought to be doing ... and that there is nothing special about the fact that he is doing those things."