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Lodi’s Cliff Kerr recalls sharing an apartment with Mitt Romney during mission in the 1960s

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Cliff Kerr

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:42 am, Fri Oct 5, 2012.

Lodi has a resident who knew presidential candidate Mitt Romney up close and personal. Cliff Kerr, a 39-year Lodi resident, shared an apartment with Romney for two months in the 1960s when they were Mormon missionaries in France. But he had no idea that Romney would ever run for president of the United States.

"The only inkling I had of Mitt's interest in politics is when he talked about his dad," Kerr said.

Kerr and Romney were in France together in 1968, the same year that Romney's father, George Romney, ran against Richard Nixon for the Republican presidential nomination.

In fact, Kerr didn't even know Romney's first name when they roomed together. Missionaries address each other as "Elder," followed by their last name.

"He was Elder Romney, and I was Elder Kerr," Kerr said.

Kerr believes that Romney's experience in France has groomed him as the person he's become in 2012. Romney is also much more prolific at speaking French than Kerr, but Kerr says that Romney really benefited by learning French.

The Romney that Kerr knew in 1968 enjoyed teaching and being with people. Romney remembered people's names and was a good listener.

"He's nice, clean, down-to-earth, never an ego-type person, always humble," Kerr recalls. "As a missionary in France, you have to get along with all different cultures."

The two missionaries met in January 1968 in Versailles. However, they didn't get together as well as they might have because Kerr and Romney were assigned different missionary partners by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Later, they were in Bordeaux, a southern seaport with an influx of North Africans, where they set up English classes and met the community. They wore berets because of the cold weather and rode motorized bicycles.

"He was always neat," Kerr said of the future presidential candidate. "We had to cook three meals a day and clean up the apartment."

If Romney becomes president, Kerr anticipates him to be a chief executive who will have broad ideas of what he wants, but will talk to people from both parties and delegate who he considers the best people to carry out his decisions.

Kerr and Romney lost touch since 1968 until Kerr and his wife, Ann, attended a Romney fundraiser in Sacramento four years ago. Romney remembered Kerr as soon as Kerr reminded him that they shared an apartment together.

While Romney went into business and then politics, Kerr moved to Lodi 39 years ago and has been a dentist ever since. He grew up in the Stanislaus County community of Riverbank and got degrees in chemistry and zoology at Brigham Young University before going to University of the Pacific's dental school in San Francisco.

It was at dental school that Kerr met Mike White, a Lodi resident who advised Kerr to check out the community. He's been here ever since.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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