By Barbara Norton
A presidential candidate leaving the campaign stump for a couple of hours to work on another stump, what was left of a fire-damaged tree, may seem part of a well-orchestrated campaign media opportunity, but that wasn’t the case when Mitt Romney showed up to work at a Rancho Bernardo home.
According to Reed Fisher, what happened at his fire-damaged home in 2007 was the candidate and fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney, being himself, performing a service project, and not expecting extra attention or credit.
Except for a video, “Mitt Romney Gives Service,” posted on YouTube by Fisher’s brother-in-law in 2007, the event remained out of the public eye for almost five years.
It came to light in April when Mormon author Jeff Benedict appeared on CBS News promoting a just-published update of his book, “The Mormon Way of Doing Business.” He had added a chapter on Mitt Romney, which included the story of Romney cutting the roots of the tree stump. To illustrate, a video produced by Romney supporters, “The Real Romney,” was shown, which included video and photos shot by Fisher and his wife, and an interview with Fisher about Romney cutting the tree stump.
After that broadcast, Fisher, an avid Romney supporter, felt he should share his experience.
It was in November 2007, the month after the Witch Creek fire swept through a portion of Rancho Bernardo, when Fisher was asked by Romney’s son, Matt, a Rancho Bernardo resident and friend of Fisher’s son, Ethan, if any more clean-up needed to be done at his partially damaged Westwood home. Fisher told him the only thing that remained was the removal of a large tree stump in his front yard. It needed to be done without heavy equipment because it was near a water line.
Before the clean-up crew arrived, Fisher went out to buy them breakfast burritos. On the way back as he drove down his street, he spotted a black SUV with two men in white shirts standing by it, an unusual sight. But the next sight really stunned him.
“When I got to the house I saw these two men in a hole, one was Matt Romney and other was running for president of the United States, Matt’s father, Mitt Romney, was helping him,” Fisher said.
While wondering what he was going to say, Mitt Romney approached Fisher and put him at ease. “He was so easy going,” Fisher said.
Romney said he would eat the burrito later and got back to work, cutting the roots with a chain saw. Since the Fishers were not living in the house because of the fire damage, Fisher called his wife, Kathy, to bring the camera and come over to the house. Kathy Fisher took photos while Reed Fisher took breaks from working with the crew to record the event on his camcorder.
Fisher said he was very impressed with how hard Romney worked and how well he interacted with his son.
“One of the things that impressed me, he was sawing away at the root and said, ‘Hey, Matt, get over here with your shovel and get under his root.’” Fisher said. “He is just like any father and son.” According to Fisher, Romney offered to go with his son on the service project during his visit to San Diego.
The only breaks Romney took was to greet a neighbor, Judy Swartzman, and to pose for a photo with another neighbor.
“He was so gracious,” Fisher said.
Apparently removing tree stumps runs through generations of Romneys. Romney told Fisher about how he would help his father, George Romney, remove tree stumps, his father saying, “Mitt, get the dynamite.”
After two hours of hard work, they finally cut all the roots around the stump and Fisher declared the project was done. It was also time for Romney to leave for other obligations. Fisher made sure the disheveled Romney got his burrito and orange juice before leaving.
The experience greatly impressed Fisher. He described Romney as an ordinary man who knew hard work.
“He was so giving, dirt all over him, hair messed up,” Fisher said.
As for the tree stump, which was still being held fast by its tap root, another crew from “Helping Hands,” a Mormon group that helps during disasters, cut at the tap root. Fisher and that crew flagged down a passing skip loader, which wouldn’t damage the water line. The driver, who was working on another job, used the equipment to pop the stump out of the hole and even hauled it away.