Mitt Romney revealed Tuesday at a campaign stop that he had met Winchester native Glen Doherty at a party several years before he was killed in the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Libya last month.
“You can imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALs killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11,’’ Romney said at a family farm in Van Meter, Iowa, retelling one of several personal stories he has recently sprinkled into his stump speeches. “And it touched me, obviously, as I recognized that this young man that I thought was so impressive had lost his life in the service of his fellow men and women.’’
Romney described a chance encounter with Doherty at a Christmas party Romney wasn’t even supposed to attend. The Republican presidential nominee recalled receiving an invitation to a neighborhood party in San Diego, where he owns a vacation home.
“I didn’t look very carefully at the address,’’ Romney said, foreshadowing the punch line of his story, “but later that night when the Christmas party was supposed to happen, I noticed that the house just kitty-cornered from us had all the lights on, and people were on the porch. They were kind of looking over at our house, and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. I wasn’t planning on going to this, but we’ll look like we’re not social if we don’t show up.’ ’’
Romney said he and his wife, Ann, walked to the house, joined the other guests for dinner and pictures, then had an epiphany: “Turns out this wasn’t the neighborhood party,’’ Romney said, drawing laughs. “This was a family having a party with their friends. So we were a little embarrassed, but they treated us well nonetheless, and I got to meet some really interesting people.’’
“One of them was a guy from my home state of Massachusetts,’’ Romney continued, referring to Doherty, “a relatively young guy, compared to me. He was a former Navy SEAL. He was living in San Diego. Learned about him, he talked about his life, he also skied a lot. He’d skied in some of the places I had, and we had a lot of things in common. He told me he keeps going back to the Middle East. He cares very deeply about the people there. He served in the military there, went back from time to time to offer security services and so forth to people there.’’
Romney went on to describe how Doherty, who was working as a security contractor in Benghazi, reportedly left the safe building where he was at the time of the attack and rushed to the consulate.
“This is the American way,’’ Romney said. “We go where there’s trouble. We go where we’re needed.’’
The anecdote was both humorous and emotional — and it typified the sort of human moments Romney has begun to sprinkle into his remarks on the campaign trail.
In the week since a strong showing in his first debate with President Obama last Wednesday, Romney has revealed a softer side. He’s talked about helping a 14-year-old leukemia patient draft his will, telling a graduate school classmate “I love you’’ on the day before the man died, and speaking with the wife of a soldier whose funeral was crashed by antiwar protesters.
Romney told the Doherty story for the first time on Tuesday. Even when he issued a public statement of condolence to Doherty’s family last month, Romney did not mention the fact that he had met him.
Doherty’s sister, Kate Quigley, told the Globe that Romney’s account of the Christmas party meeting is accurate and that Doherty’s family is “fine with the way it’s being used,’’ though she also said the family is “trying to stay out of the politics.’’
Quigley added that the newly formed Glen Doherty Memorial Foundation, which raises money for education and recreation, launched a website on Monday. Quigley said she hopes Romney’s telling of her brother’s story might aid the foundation’s cause.