When Paul Ryan called up Sheryl and Mark Nixon a few weeks ago, the Northborough couple knew the vice presidential candidate was planning to mention their story during his campaign run soon.
"That was a surprise, actually," Mark Nixon said in a phone interview last night. "I had talked with Paul Ryan earlier this week and I thought maybe they'd want to talk about this in a campaign speech. I thought it was a complex story to get across in a few seconds."
That "complex story" is that the Nixons' sons, Rob and Reed, were in a car crash in 1995 that left the brothers quadriplegic, and drew Mitt Romney into their world. When Romney (then, he was between running for senate and governor) heard of the tragedy, he visited on Christmas Eve day with presents, and then later offered to pay for both of their college educations.
Ryan noted that Romney doesn't talk about his outpouring of generosity to this family, and has shied away from the spotlight on it. But Ryan wanted to show that very side of Romney by bringing the story back out of hiding.
"One of Paul Ryan's campaign managers called me and asked if I'd take a call from Paul," said Mark. "I said sure, and told Paul we don't have any problem with him using the story. His comment to us was that Mitt Romney won't talk about this himself, but that it was his job to be able to tell this side of Romney and the Romney family."
Ryan became aware of the story in September, when the Nixon family was featured on the Glenn Beck show.
"He wasn't a political official at the time," said Mark. "It was just a generous thing. He never told anyone about this. It wasn't a political issue, or a media issue."
While media surrounded the family after the incident happened, it had settled down. Both Rob and Reed got college degrees, and are doing very well. Robert is a CPA living in Orange County, CA, and "got married to a firecracker of a young woman."
Attention once again came to the family when in 2011 Sheryl published "In the Blink of an Eye: the Rob and Reed Nixon Story." She also maintains a family blog about the Nixons, with links to coverage of the family.
Romney, Mark said, has continued to keep in touch with the Nixons, and has offered support through the years. He has participated in 5K races on their behalf, as well as golf tournaments, and sent gifts to Rob and Reed for graduation.
"We're happy this story is getting out there," said Mark, "and I have explained to some family and friends that you can have a disagreement on the politics of Mitt Romney, but you cannot doubt his family values and integrity. I believe I'm moderate, politically, and the person's values and integrity is the place that I start. Then I look at the political issues. I believe [Romney] is a moderate and he represents most what I'm interested in. We're happy to have this story out and to the public."
And as for the family's fame?
"This will be short lived," laughed Mark. "Talk about six seconds of fame. Reed and Rob are motivational speakers, and they are used to talking and interacting and doing public speaking. This will die down pretty quickly."