Aug. 17, 2012 -- To borrow from Lewis Carroll's Alice, Mitt Romney just gets curiouser and curiouser by the minute.
But one thing's for sure. McDonald's did in fact grant George Romney, Mitt's dad, a lifetime "Be Our Guest" card. In an email statement, McDonald's Global Communications Vice President Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem wrote, "McDonald's founder Ray Kroc was known for his generosity and for sometimes gifting Lifetime "Be Our Guest" cards through the years. Through a search in our Golden Archives, we learned that Mr. George Romney was one of these recipients. ... Ray was known to informally gift these to folks from time to time when he was alive." The corporation, however, said it didn't track why these cards were given.
Ever since Romney told a crowd in Chicago that his father, George Romney, possessed a McDonald's for Life Card, ABC News became intrigued, and has worked diligently to research the origins of this too-good-to-be-true perk. But it seems there is nothing to find.
As Mitt Romney relayed the story from his boyhood, he told a group at a campaign fundraiser in August that he once found a McDonald's for Life Card in his father's dresser drawer. The card, reportedly signed by McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, entitled the holder to a hamburger, shake and fries once a day for life. According to his son's account, the elder Romney helped Kroc with training when the McDonald's empire was just a mere handful of restaurants.
The story, however, raises more questions than it answers. What did Romney's training sessions consist of? George Romney was a missionary, civic leader and auto industry representative in his young adult years. Which of these skills was so valuable to Kroc that Romney got free McDonald's meals for life? Or was it that Kroc perhaps didn't have enough liquid assets at the time to pay George Romney in money? Most pressingly, how did Romney and Kroc even know each other? None of their biographical details seem to put the two together at any specific point in their respective careers.
Maybe Mitt Romney was trying to tell us more about himself than we realized, though. If George Romney was close to Ray Kroc, he likely met Willard Scott Jr., the inventor of the Ronald McDonald character. Scott could have made such an impression on the elder Romney that he named his youngest child, Willard Mitt Romney, after him. The Romneys have said that Mitt was named after family friend J. Willard Marriott, the hotel chain magnate, but what if he was really named after another family friend?
Alas, it seems unlikely. T. George Harris, author of the George Romney biography "Romney's Way," said that Romney had never spoken to him about Ray Kroc, let alone a McDonald's for Life Card, which, Harris said, would indicate that neither were very important to George. "It seems unlikely that he would have a relationship of any importance that I wouldn't know about," Harris said. And it goes both ways. Joanne Matten, author of the children's Ray Kroc biography, "Ray Kroc: McDonald's Restaurants Builder," also said that she never came across anything regarding George Romney in researching Kroc. Additionally, a randomly selected sample of McDonald's restaurant managers expressed confusion when asked about this promotion, and said they had never seen such a card.
Assuming that such a card did exist, it could have been quite the boon, depending on how much Romney enjoyed McDonald's. In 2012, a McDonald's hamburger costs $1 as does a small order of fries, and a small shake runs $2.49 -- a $4.49 meal (plus tax). Assuming that the cardholder obtained the card at age 25 (old enough for George Romney to prove himself worthy of such an honor, albeit still precociously) and ate one McDonald's meal a day until death at the ripe old age of 100 (dubious, considering this gratis diet plan), the McDonald's for Life Card would have been worth $122,913.75 over those 75 years, not accounting for inflation.
And so now, weeks later, it seems that the world may never know the details surrounding George Romney's McDonald's VIP status. Sorry, Mitt - your childhood anecdote to "unzip the real Mitt" has only added to the intrigue.