Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents
Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them — Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal — spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be named. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan. All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections.
“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”
“It was a hack job,” recalled Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.”
“He was just easy pickins,” said Friedemann, then the student prefect, or student authority leader of Stevens Hall, expressing remorse about his failure to stop it.
The incident transpired in a flash, and Friedemann said Romney then led his cheering schoolmates back to his bay-windowed room in Stevens Hall.
Friedemann, guilt ridden, made a point of not talking about it with his friend and waited to see what form of discipline would befall Romney at the famously strict institution. Nothing happened.
(What’s your opinion: Are Romney’s high school actions relevant to his campaign?)
Romney is now the presumed Republican presidential nominee. In a radio interview Thursday morning, Romney said he didn’t remember the incident but apologized for pranks he helped orchestrate that he said “might have gone too far.”
His campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said in a statement that “anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body. The stories of fifty years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”
Campaign officials denied a request for an interview with Romney. They also declined to comment further about his years at Cranbrook.
After the incident, Lauber seemed to disappear. He returned days later with his shortened hair back to its natural brown. He finished the year, but ultimately left the school before graduation — thrown out for smoking a cigarette.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, David Seed noticed a familiar face at the end of a bar at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“Hey, you’re John Lauber,” Seed recalled saying at the start of a brief conversation. Seed, also among those who witnessed the Romney-led incident, had gone on to a career as a teacher and principal. Now he had something to get off his chest.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help in the situation,” he said.
Lauber paused, then responded, “It was horrible.” He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, “It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”
Lauber died in 2004, according to his three sisters.
Romney came of age during his six years at Cranbrook. First as a day student and later as a full-time boarder, he embraced and became emblematic of the Cranbrook way — a strict disciplinary code and academic rigor that governed the school by day and a free-wheeling unofficial boys code of “Crannies” at night. Wherever the action was, so was Romney. He wrote the most letters to the girls at the sister school across the lake and successfully petitioned to get placed in the top classes. He was not a natural athlete, but found his place among the jocks by managing the hockey team and leading megaphone cheers for the football team. Although a devout Mormon, one of the few at the school, he was less defined by his faith than at any other time in his life. He was a member of 11 school organizations, including the Spectator’s Club and the homecoming committee, and started the school’s booster outfit, the Blue Key Club.
It was at Cranbrook where he first lived on his own, found his future wife and made his own decisions. One can see the institution’s influence on his demeanor and actions during those years, but also how it helped form the clubbiness and earnestness, the sense of leadership and enthusiasm, apparent in his careers as a businessman and a politician. “He strongly bought in to community service,” said Richard Moon, a schoolmate at the time. “That hard work was its own reward.” What is less visible today is what was most apparent to his prep-school peers: his jocularity.
Now, nearly half a century later, Romney’s presidential campaign has turned to the candidate’s youthful antics as evidence of his capacity for harmless, humanizing pranks and as an indication of his looser, less wooden self.
“There’s a wild and crazy man inside of there just waiting to come out,” Romney’s wife, Ann — a graduate of Cranbrook’s sister school, Kingswood — attested in a television interview this month, evoking what she saw as his endearing and fun-loving prep-school persona. Many of Romney’s peers from his high school days echo that version of the candidate, describing him as the humble son of an automobile executive-turned-governor who volunteered at the nearby mental hospital. They recall an infectious laugh, a characterization first documented in his senior yearbook.
“If you should ever by chance be walking down the [Stevens Hall] corridor at 2:00 a.m. and hear rising tones of boisterous, exuberant laughter, you are almost sure to find its source is Mitt Romney,” the yearbook reported. “A quiet joke, a panicky laughter and another of the Friedemann-Romney all-night marathon contests has begun.”
But Friedemann and several people closest to Romney in those formative years say there was a sharp edge to him. In an English class, Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak out in class were punctuated with Romney shouting, “Atta girl!” In the culture of that time and place, that was not entirely out of the norm. Hummel recalled some teachers using similar language.
Saul, Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, said the candidate has no recollection of the incident.
Teachers were also the butt of Romney’s brand of humor.
One venerable English teacher, Carl G. Wonnberger, nicknamed “the Bat” for his diminished eyesight, was known to walk into the trophy case and apologize, step into wastepaper baskets and stare blindly as students slipped out the back of the room to smoke by the open windows. Once, several students remembered the time pranksters propped up the back axle of Wonnberger’s Volkswagen Beetle with two-by-fours and watched, laughing from the windows, as the unwitting teacher slammed the gas pedal with his wheels spinning in the air.
As an underclassman, Romney accompanied Wonnberger and Pierce Getsinger, another student, from the second floor of the main academic building to the library to retrieve a book the two boys needed. According to Getsinger, Romney opened a first set of doors for Wonnberger, but then at the next set, with other students around, he swept his hand forward, bidding the teacher into a closed door. Wonnberger walked right into it and Getsinger said Romney giggled hysterically as the teacher shrugged it off as another of life’s indignities.
“I always enjoyed his pranks,” said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney’s who went on to a career as a public school teacher and has long been bothered by the Lauber incident. “But I was not the brunt of any of his pranks.”
In later years, after Romney went on a Mormon mission, married and raised five sons, he seemed a different person to some old classmates. “Mitt began to change as a person when he met Ann Davies. He gradually became a more serious person. She was part of the process of him maturing and becoming more of the person he is today,” said Jim Bailey, who was a classmate of Romney’s at Cranbrook and later at Harvard.
* * *
By the 1950s, George and Lenore Romney had cracked the Motor City firmament and made their home in the exclusive enclave of Bloomfield Hills. When it came to educating their children, the clear choice was Cranbrook.
Built in 1927 by George Booth, publisher of the Detroit News, and named after his father’s alma mater in Kent, England, Cranbrook stood out as an architectural gem in the Michigan woods. Modeled on British boarding schools with “forms” instead of grades, “prefects” instead of RAs, “masters” instead of teachers, it also boasted the work of famed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. Cranbrook had all the trappings of an elite school where kids walked around like junior executives and, as Tom Elliott, Class of 1966, recalled, learned mantras such as, “Remember who you are, and what you represent.”
“If you went to Cranbrook,” said a classmate, Peter “the Bird” Werbel. “You were crème de la crème.”
The Romney children walked under arches reading “A Life Without Beauty Is Only Half Lived”; past a field overlooked by Greek-style sculptures where the Detroit Lions practiced; and then a statuette of the school’s symbol, the archer from Book V of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” who “aimed an arrow high.” (In the mug honoring Romney’s Class of 1965, a naked woman replaced the aiming archer.) They looked out of leaded-glass windows in the academic buildings, crossed the spruce-spotted quad lined with modernist fountains and sleek statues of coursing hounds. They studied in reading rooms featuring frescoes and marble friezes. In the chandeliered dining room, students waited on fellow students and sat on straight-backed spindle chairs bearing the school’s insignia of a proud crane. After dinner, they wiped their mouths with cloth napkins.
In 1959, Mitt Romney enrolled at Cranbrook as a 12-year-old seventh-grader.
For the most part, the school broke down along the usual lines of jocks and brains, popular kids and introverts, all trained with the expectation of joining the next generation’s elite. The students gave one another chummy nicknames. There was Moonie and Butch, the Kraut and Flip. Romney, his name short to begin with, was playfully teased with chants of Wiiillard, Wiiillard by his friends.
Ron Sill, a Romney classmate especially attuned to the counter-culture of the 1960s, rolled his eyes at the dance instruction and lessons on how to hold a teacup and properly shake a man’s hand. He preferred to listen to folk music in the coffee shops of neighboring Birmingham. Taro Yamasaki, the son of the architect of the World Trade Center and several Bloomfield Hills houses, then went by the name Michael and encountered what he called a “veiled racism.” “I was a linebacker in football,” said Yamasaki, who went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. “And the coaches would call me Kamikaze.” Sidney Barthwell, the son of a prominent Detroit pharmacist, was the only African American student in Romney’s class from the seventh through 12th grades. Now a Detroit magistrate, he said he tried to introduce some west Detroit swagger to the school, but it was, he said, “pretty Republican and pretty waspy.”
There was a significant Jewish contingent, and several of those students said they never sensed any obvious prejudice. During Romney’s tenure, there were also Middle Eastern exchange students, usually from Kuwait.
Abdulhadi M. al-Awadi, a Kuwaiti student, had fond memories of the school and the respect and special attention he received from teachers. He recalled Romney as the “son of Governor Romney” who was “very sociable.” When some students put up pictures of Israeli statesman David Ben-Gurion in the hallway near his room, he did not believe it was meant intentionally to offend him, but he was bothered by it. “It’s human nature. But they did it. That’s their right.”
Faisel F. al-Abduljadir, a Kuwaiti student spending his senior year at Cranbrook in part to improve his English, said the teachers and students went out of their way to treat him with respect, showing consideration for his celebration of Ramadan and bathing requirements. But he acknowledged being “angry” about a caption under his picture in the senior yearbook that read, “Take a left at the next Synagogue.”
Religion was not much of an issue for the students. There was mandatory chapel time on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they sang Episcopalian hymns and the school song, “Forty Years On,” but it was studiously nondenominational. The campus’s elegant Christ Church had a Star of David, an Islamic crescent, and Yin and Yang sign above its wooden door. The Mormon Romney joined Jews and Protestants on Cranbrook’s Church Cabinet, which focused on community service.
Some students admired Romney for what they saw as his lack of airs, saying he did not trade on his father’s status as an auto executive and governor. Romney even came in for teasing because American Motors, the company his father ran, was considered at the bottom rung of the big auto hierarchy, below General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
“Boys in a boys’ school can tease and make fun of almost anything,” said Bailey, a scholarship student and head prefect of the school who described Romney at the time as an awkward adolescent with a penchant for practical jokes. The children of other auto executives would taunt Romney for the Ramblers he and his father drove. “That’s not a car, that’s a bicycle with a dishwasher for an engine,” Bailey recalled them saying.
Others noticed a distance between themselves and Romney. “I was a scholarship student and he was the son of the governor,” said Lance Leithauser, now a doctor, who attended the school with his brother, Brad, now a noted poet. “There was a bit of a gulf.” Even a close pal like Friedemann felt that distance; their friendship was confined to the dorms. When Romney left the campus on weekends, he never invited him. “I didn’t quite fit into the social circle. I didn’t have a car when I was 16,” Friedemann said. “I couldn’t go skiing or whatever they did.”
Lou Vierling, a scholarship student who boarded at Cranbrook for the 1960 and 1961 academic years, was struck by a question Romney asked them when they first met. “He wanted to know what my father did for a living,” Vierling recalled. “He wanted to know if my mother worked. He wanted to know what town I lived in.” As Vierling explained that his father taught school, that he commuted from east Detroit, he noticed a souring of Romney’s demeanor.
Romney was bowled over by the wealth of some of his friends. He briefly dated Mary Fisher, the daughter of the philanthropist and diplomat Max Fisher, who acted as a finance chairman to George Romney’s political campaigns. At her house, he watched the James Bond film “Goldfinger” in the family’s private theater before it was widely released. He reported excitedly back to Friedemann about the theater, noting that the seats even had numbers.
The largest chasm of all at Cranbrook was between the boarders and the “day boys.” Students within the limits of Detroit’s Eight Mile Road had the option to attend the school without boarding. The requirements for enrollment as a day student were generally tougher, leading day boys to consider themselves academically superior. Day boys also had the freedom to leave campus when school let out late in the afternoon. Often those with cars would gas up at nearby service stations, cruise Woodward Avenue and plot “how and where we could get some beer,” said Gregg Dearth, who went by the nickname Daiquiri Dearth. Drugs were generally unheard of, but day boy parties often included someone downing beers or toting bottles of scotch.
Romney began his Cranbrook career as a day boy and quickly adapted to the school’s unofficial code. He was prohibited by his religion from drinking alcohol but excelled at elaborate practical jokes.
During spring break of his senior year, when most of his friends went to Florida for vacation, Romney stayed behind to make movies for an upcoming Cranbrook talent show. For one, he filmed his friends Stu White and Judy Sherman seated at a table to dine on fine china on a Woodward Avenue median as their friend Pike John, now deceased, acted as the waiter. Romney filmed the luncheon until a police officer pulled up. “And that was it,” Sherman said.
But in a well-known prank in which Romney flashed a police siren and, bearing a fake badge and cap, approached two friends and their dates parked on a dark country road, there was a stronger undercurrent of fear to the incident than commonly conveyed. Candy Porter, a Kingswood boarder from a small town in Ohio, had a strict 11 p.m. curfew. As Romney and his Cranbrook pals played out the joke, pretending to be shocked over empty bourbon bottles in the trunk, Porter thought of the dorm mothers waiting at the door and the threat of expulsion. “I just remember being like a deer in headlights,” she said. “I just remember being terrified.” Once she realized it was all a prank, and was safely back at her dorm, Porter joined in the laughter.
Romney’s sense of humor ran through his family.
Sherman, a friend of the Romneys from high school, recalled Ann telling her about the time Romney and his older brother, Scott, dressed up in white coats and wheeled a gurney up to the Birmingham train station to meet their aunt. When she got off the train, they rushed her away as if to a madhouse.
* * *
By the time Romney started dating Ann in his senior year, he had immersed himself into the Cranbrook culture. In 1962, when his father won the governorship and his parents moved to Lansing, he entered the boarding life as a resident of Stevens Hall, named after the school’s first headmaster. From the inside, Cranbrook was an entirely different place.
“The day students,” said Steph Lady, a boarder and now a screenwriter in Hollywood, “it was like they didn’t even go there.”
Romney breathed Cranbrook day and night.
He met the Kingswood girls at the Get Acquainted Dance in the school gym. There was the Chateau de Noel girl-ask-boy dance at Christmas, and the World A-Fair, in which students dressed up in the garb of other nations. He sang in the Glee Club and started the Blue Key Club, an organization of students who “know the campus and Cranbrook traditions well” and served as ambassador to parents and prospective students. The school newspaper noted that his “diligent and capable leadership” of the homecoming weekend, where he delivered a “brilliantly hilarious monologue,” earned him a citation reserved for “students whose contributions to school life are often not fully recognized through already existing channels.” He was co-chairman of the Speculators Club and played a leading role in the American Field Service, which helped bring foreign students to the campus. He also served a leadership role on a student cabinet organization and during his senior year took a bus with some Kingswood girls to volunteer at the nearby state mental hospital. There, he danced to spinning 45s and talked and ate chips with the young patients.
“His altruism was apparent then and is apparent now,” said Candy Porter, who volunteered with Romney at the hospital. “I just remember him being really nice,” said Mary Fisher.
Romney also found time to contribute to the school paper as a special correspondent at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. “Mitt Romney Comments on Kennedy Funeral,” read the front page headline on the Dec. 17, 1963, edition of the Crane. “Note: Personal comments and observations made by Mitt Romney in Washington, Nov. 25, 1963.”
“The old Washington theory of relativity, briefly: one is important only until a bigger brass appears, was blatently [sic] obvious for whenever before have we had the top potentates of the world here to outrank our dignitaries? We all recall the day when we saw a senator of the like in some big, black limosine [sic] drive through our town. Most likely our mouths were hanging wide open as our Mommies and Daddies told us the man out there was a very important person who worked in Washington.”
* * *
Even without extracurricular activities, Cranbrook demanded long days. The morning bell rang at 7 and breakfast was served in the dining hall at 7:30, coat and tie required. After breakfast, students returned to clean their rooms in anticipation of white-gloved senior prefects who scoured the bed frames for dust. After classes and study hall at 9:30, students could go beneath Stevens Hall to the school store, where the boys received letters, via an inter-school postal service, from the girls at Kingswood. Some were perfumed.
The letters Romney wrote were delivered to the Green Lobby in Kingswood. Around 10:15 every morning, the girls, all wearing saddle shoes, hoped to hear their names called amid walls of rich green tile, and banisters, benches and clocks all in the art deco style.
“The person who wrote the most consistently was Mitt,” said Lyn Moon Shields, who dated Romney in the fall semester of 1964. Gentlemanly and fun, Romney was her best date in her six years at school. He called every evening and picked her up in his powder blue Rambler and drove her up and down Woodward Avenue on weekends, and to school dances where she wore blue-green formal dresses and he a dark suit and tie. “Things were so innocent,” she said. “We kissed each other, I think Mitt would admit to that.” One day, she said, Romney just stopped calling. He had taken an interest in a Kingswood sophomore. “They got intentional about their relationship very soon,” Shields said of Mitt and Ann.
Like every other student, Romney completed a rigorous workload that made most college requirements seem easy by comparison. Between the seventh and eighth grades, the faculty selected a dozen or so students to enter an advanced-placement program. Romney at first was not among the chosen, and he objected. “He went into the headmaster and convinced him that ‘I should be in this,’ ” John French, who had been friends with Romney since they served together as Cub Scouts, recalled Romney telling him. “He had gumption. He had his sights on what he wanted to achieve.”
The time after class was set aside for sports. Romney was not a natural athlete, according to classmates. He wore the Cranbrook “C” on his white tank top as a cross-country runner, but the greatest impression he made in that pursuit was collapsing near the finish line during a meet — although his perseverance won him admiration and applause. He was more at home on the sidelines, cheering the football team on as a member of the Pep Club, chanting such cheers into a megaphone as “Iron them out. Iron them out. Smooooth.”
He participated on the school’s hockey team as its manager, lugging a duffle bag full of pucks and sticks. Dressed in suit and tie and three-quarter coat, he rode the bus with the uniformed players and kept stats in the coach’s box at the cold outdoor rink. The team’s senior year began with promise, but ended badly. The players took out their frustration on the ice, getting into brawls with Lakeview and Catholic Central. During one fight, Maxwell pulled the jersey over the head of an opposing player and pummeled away. Romney dashed onto the ice, slipping and sliding in his Brogan wingtips in an apparent attempt to break up the fight.
During the winter of Romney’s sophomore year, the faculty assigned him and Maxwell to mop the floors of the academic halls, part of a World War II-era program meant to instill a work ethic in the students. During their six-week detail, the two old friends had long, rambling conversations about religion, and Maxwell pressed Romney on how he could believe in Mormonism.
As Maxwell later recalled their discussion, he asked Romney, “How can you believe that thing about the tablets?” referring to the divine gold tablets Mormons believe were discovered in New York and translated by Joseph Smith.
Romney, he said, responded, “What about the Virgin birth and the holy trinity?”
“I don’t believe that either,” Maxwell responded. The discussions ultimately came down to a faith vs. reason equation.
“You simply have to have faith,” Romney concluded.
“That’s a cop-out,” Maxwell said.
While there were seeds of Romney’s future devoutness at Cranbrook, he was then more interested in goofing off. In the evenings, he cut loose with Friedemann, a scholarship kid from the small town of Romeo, dubbed the Kraut. The two boys stayed up late, joking around and racing mops like racehorses up and down the hallway.
One regular in the Stevens Hall revelry was the school’s security guard, Chester. In police uniform, chubby and middle-aged, Chester would let Romney and Friedemann examine and play with his gun. In the student yearbook, Romney posed with his arm around Chester wearing thick black glasses, similar to those the guard wore, but also a ski hat and a silly Jerry Lewis expression. At the Swingin’ Sweeney Dance, Romney pointed a toy gun under his chin as two girls shook hands in front of him. A photo of the pose ran in the yearbook above the caption, “Give a guy enough rope and he’ll hang himself.”
Romney spent months trying to convert Friedemann, the son of New Deal-worshiping Democrats, to the Republican Party. He asked to meet his friend’s grandmother, so that he could convert her, too. “He talked politics all the time,” Friedemann said. “It was more big government versus small government. He was a business guy back then.”
Romney’s political and personal idol, George Romney, was never far away. Once Crawford Elder, a student a year behind Romney, saw the governor in the basement under Stevens Hall getting a haircut from Everett Arthurs, the school barber and part-time bartender at faculty cocktail parties. When Ev, as he was widely known, dropped dead after a round of golf, Gov. Romney eulogized him at a tree dedication ceremony on the quad, a few steps away from his son’s room.
* * *
After lights out, John Lauber often left his door open. Larry Olson and some other boarders would check for the hall monitor they called Sneaky Pete and slip into Lauber’s room. From there, they would crawl out his window, climb over the bushes and scurry off campus to Lone Pine Road, where a pizza truck regularly parked. Sated, they would climb back through the window and check on the bottles of apple juice that they hoped fermenting grapes would turn into hard cider. Then Lauber and his friends played poker until the early morning.
When Lauber’s younger sister, Betsy, visited the campus, she said she found him happy and sporting a preppy look. He took her to an off-campus party at a fellow student’s house where they danced to Motown records and laughed.
But he was always a bit different from the rest. During breaks from school, he worked as a mortician’s assistant. He spent more time devouring books than making friends in clubs.
“He was very quiet, not a jock,” said Steph Lady. “Very soft-spoken. I know nothing, probably gay, but who knows. We were so stupid and naïve. I know there was homosexuality there but we didn’t even have a word for it. And there was homophobia then, too.”
On an overcast Saturday, David Craig, a senior prefect and day student, drove his car down Martell Drive along the school grounds and saw a figure duck into the hedges. He thought the person might be trespassing and stopped, only to find Lauber puffing on a cigarette. In a move that he said he later regretted as an excess of the “dorm trooper” mentality instilled by Cranbrook, Craig reported Lauber to the headmaster. Soon after, Lauber was expelled.
“He just disappeared,” Lady said.
Sudden disappearances at Cranbrook were not unheard of. Students might pass a dorm neighbor on the way to class and come back hours later, with all their belongings gone and their beds stripped by maintenance staff. Bad behavior and bad grades were not tolerated.
Ben Snyder, who as an assistant headmaster later spearheaded the school’s effort to recruit inner-city students, said Cranbrook in Romney’s time “had its standards and applied them briskly when needed.” As chairman of a group of faculty members and students who were in charge of discipline, he described a strict school in which offenders could be “dismissed, period.” Snyder could not recall dealing with any transgressions involving Romney. “I wouldn’t expect to see him,” Snyder said of the disciplinary tribunals. “The family was so straight, they don’t do those types of things.”
On June 12, 1965, Romney concluded his Cranbrook career at a commencement ceremony at the Christ Church, in which his father delivered a keynote address reported on by the local papers.
“This is a special occasion for us as a family,” George Romney told the gathered boys before emphasizing that religion and “the one girlfriend whom you finally take the greatest interest in” and good health habits were critical for a successful life. So, he said, was character. “Developing character is going to be more important than your education from now on.” The ceremony concluded with all the boys singing a final rendition of their school song, “Forty years on.”
“Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today,
When you look back, and forgetfully wonder
What you were like in your work and your play,
Then, it may be, there will often come o’er you,
Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song –
Visions of boyhood shall float them before you,
Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along,
Follow up! Follow up! Follow up!”
Forty years on, Mitt Romney accepted the school’s 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award.
A year earlier, John Joseph Lauber died at a Seattle hospital.
The boy few at Cranbrook knew or remember was born in Chicago, grew up in South Bend, Ind., and had a hard time fitting in. He liked to wander and “had a glorious sense of the absurd,” according to his sister Betsy. When the chance to get out of Indiana presented itself, he jumped at it, and enrolled at Cranbrook. He never uttered a word about Mitt Romney or the haircut incident to his sisters. After Cranbrook asked him to leave, he finished high school, attended the University of the Seven Seas for two semesters, then graduated in 1970 from Vanderbilt, where he majored in English.
He came out as gay to his family and close friends and led a vagabond life, taking dressage lessons in England and touring with the Royal Lipizzaner Stallion riders. After an extreme fit of temper in front of his mother and sister at home in South Bend, he checked into the Menninger Clinic psychiatric hospital in Topeka, Kan. Later he received his embalmer’s license, worked as a chef aboard big freighters and fishing trawlers, and cooked for civilian contractors during the war in Bosnia and then, a decade later, in Iraq. His hair thinned as he aged, and in the winter of 2004 he returned to Seattle, the closest thing he had to a base. He died there of liver cancer that December.
He kept his hair blond until he died, said his sister Chris. “He never stopped bleaching it.”
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.