by Sheila Gardner

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February 3, 2012
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Romney ties go back more than 40 years

George Keele was a 20-year-old member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving a church mission in France in 1968 when he first came in contact with top Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.

That connection of more than four decades surfaced recently when a picture of Keele, Romney, then 21, and fellow missionary Dane McBride was published in the Jan. 12 issue of The Economist magazine.

The photograph accompanied an article examining Romney's candidacy. None of the people pictured is identified, but a friend of Keele's daughter, Christa, recognized the Minden lawyer, now 64.

"It was summer 1968," Keele recalled in an interview Wednesday. "All the students and labor unions in Paris were on strike. All the full-time missionaries including those who came from Russia, France, Germany and the United States, and many, many other countries who had been assigned to locations within France were deprived of contact with the outside world because the telecommunications union also was on strike as were the mail carriers."

He said the young men and women serving the church had been doing so without any contact with their families or church leaders in the United States for about six weeks.

Keele and McBride had been assigned to live and serve in Bayonne, Biarritz, Anglet and three provinces of the Basque country located within France along the border with Spain.

Romney was serving in Paris with the mission president, Smith Benjamin Griffin and his wife, Marion. Griffin was a former agent of the U.S. Treasury Department and had served as a customs agent. He received clearance from U.S. Embassy officials in France and authorized Romney and missionary Terry Lafferty to take the train to Bordeaux and use a missionary car to drive from Bordeaux to Bayonne with Keele and McBride to the Spanish border.

"We introduced them to our friends with the Spanish customs department and they were admitted to Spain," Keele said. "While in San Sebastian, they made contact with ham radio operators who were able to establish contact with our church leaders in Salt Lake City, and give them more complete status of each of the 200 or so missionaries who were laboring in France at the time."

He said the U.S. embassy was never out of contact with U.S. and church officials, but lacked the time and budget to allow every missionary to call home.

"What Mitt and Terry Lafferty were doing was spending time on the radio amateurs' system with as many missionary parents as they could possibly contact letting them know that their young women and young men were safe and relaying specific messages," Keele said.

He hasn't kept in close contact with Romney but Keele's calling in the church occasionally brings them together.

"I knew him much better than he knew me," Keele said.

Keele said he was happy to support Romney in his presidential bid.

"I have been contacted by his people to help them, and I am pleased to do so. I know Mitt to have the same heart today as he did when we were missionaries in 1968, and I enjoy him immensely. Mitt, our companions, and I shared some very sacred moments together as missionaries of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

Republican caucuses start at noon Saturday.

Following is a list of precinct numbers followed by the site address:

1, 4,11,15,20,21,26,27,31,32,33,34, Minden Douglas High 1670 Highway 88

2 Fish Springs Vol. Fire, 2149 Fish Springs Road.

3,4 Gardnerville Vol. Fire, 1255 Douglas Ave.

5,6 Genoa Town Hall, 2289-A Main St.

7 Gardnerville Aspen Park Club House, 1380 Centerville Dr.

8,9 Gardnerville Ranchos Vol. Fire, 940 Mitch Dr.

10 Wellington Topaz Ranch Estates Fire, 1476 Albite Road.

12 Gardnerville Waldo Walker's home 808 Bodduh

13 Carson City Nevada Division of Forestry, 3450 Jack's Valley Road

16,30 Minden Douglas City Republican HQ, 1615 Highway 395

17 Gardnerville Ruhenstroth Vol. Fire, 2008 Pinto Circle

18,19 Gardnerville St. Gall Catholic. Church classrooms 1343 Centerville Dr.

22 Minden Johnson Lane Fire, 1450 Stephanie Way

23 Carson City Sunridge Fire Station, 3620 N. Sunridge Dr.

24 Topaz Lake Fire Station, 1990 Austin St.

25 Minden CVIC Hall, 1602 Esmeralda Ave. 15

28 Fish Springs Vol. Fire, 2149 Fish Springs Road

29 Gardnerville Sheridan Vol. Fire, 980 Sheridan Lane

35-41 Zephyr Cove Whittell High, 240 Warrior Way

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The Record Courier Updated Feb 3, 2012 05:48PM Published Feb 3, 2012 12:23PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.