BOSTON - The head of the prominent Marriott hotel chain and fellow Mormon J.W. Marriott thanked Mitt Romney today during a Mormon church service for bringing "positive attention" to the religion, which is often considered to be shrouded in mystery.
"There has never been as much positive attention to the church, thanks to the wonderful campaign of Mitt Romney and his family," Marriott said during a service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wolfeboro, N.H., the lakeside town where the Romney family has a home.
Marriott's remarks come after a noticeable shift in the campaign to highlight Romney's faith, a subject that has been rarely spoken about publicly by the candidate and his wife until last week, when both mentioned Mormonism in their speeches at the Republican National Convention. Additionally, several speakers arranged by the campaign to appear at the RNC highlighted the candidate's strong ties to his faith.
Romney and Ann Romney, who sat six rows back in the church this morning, showed little reaction to Marriott's testimony, according to a small group of reporters who accompanied the couple inside.
Marriott spoke about an interview he did in the 1990s with CBS News' Mike Wallace for "60 Minutes," retelling a story about the undergarments many practicing Mormons wear, another subject the Romneys have never discussed.
"Of course the one question that they put on the air was, I understand Mormons wear different underwear, and I said yes, and he says, "Do you?'" Marriott recalled.
Marriott explained that he told Wallace at the time that the underwear looks like a "T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts" and that it prompted him to tell a story about an instance he believes the garments saved his life.
"I'd been involved in a very serious boat accident, here in New Hampshire. I caught fire; my polyester pants had burned off all the way to my waist. But my undergarments from my waist down to my knees had not even been singed. There was not a mark on them. And I said, these holy undergarments saved my life," Marriott said.
"And after the interview we walked out together, and he looked at me, and said, 'I wish I had the faith of the Mormons. I lost my 19-year-old son while he was rock climbing a few years ago, and I don't know where he is and I don't know if I'll ever see him again,'" Marriott said.
The Romney family and the Marriott family have a long standing friendship. Romney's father, George Romney, was so close to John Willard Marriott, the founder of the Marriott enterprise, that he named Romney after him. Romney's first name is actually Willard, and Mitt is his middle name.