Romney appeared at several local events and visited Ottawa County many times while in office from 1963-69.
While history records Romney as the guest speaker at the Nativity scene dedication on Dewey Hill in Grand Haven on Dec. 9, 1964, another event that took place seven months earlier seems to have disappeared in time.
On May 1, 1964, a 37-year-old Columbian native named Charles P. English marched into the governor's Lansing office carrying a fully loaded .38-caliber pistol in an attaché case and a folding knife in his pants pocket.
The Grand Haven Tribune published an Associated Press story at the top of page on May 1, 1964, brandishing the headline: “Foil Romney Assassin.”
Ironically, a man named Kennedy apprehended the would-be “assassin” as the man took one step into Romney's inner office.
Jay Kennedy, a state police bodyguard, reportedly grabbed English by the shoulder and pulled him back. A search of the man's attaché case revealed the loaded weapon.
Kennedy and others restrained the suspect. No one was injured.
As English was escorted away, he was heard to say, “George Romney may be the best president of the United States.”
Later, when Romney and Kennedy met with English for a private chat, the motive for English's meeting was revealed.
“He told me he wanted me and former Vice President Richard Nixon on the national (presidential) ticket,” Romney said. With Election Day six months away, English “was concerned about national affairs,” Romney added.
A check of records revealed English — whose wife and three children lived in Bogotá, Columbia — had residency in Miami, Fla. How he came to be in Michigan is unknown.
When entering the governor's mansion in Lansing, English told security he was an FBI agent. And when meeting Romney's secretary, Margaret Little, he informed her that Nixon had arranged his appointment with the governor.
“There's Gov. Romney now,” English reportedly said to Little. “I want to see him. Dick Nixon made the appointment.”
English then attempted to barge in when Kennedy restrained him and discovered the weapons.
It was later uncovered that English had a “history of mental disturbances” and once had been hospitalized due to his illness. Authorities found on his person a card identifying himself as president of the Latino-American Development Corp. He also was a registered commercial aviator in Florida.
Romney maintained a sense of humor concerning the encounter with English and reportedly “laughed off the incident.” Within days, the “would-be assassin” vanished, as few believed English intended to kill Romney.
While English's Romney/Nixon ticket of 1964 never transpired, Romney was named secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon administration, an office he served from January 1969 to January 1973.
English's imagined Romney running mate, Richard Nixon, once visited Grand Haven. On Oct. 15, 1952, Nixon delivered a speech to a crowd of about 3,000 Tri-Cities citizens at the Pere Marquette train station. He was the vice presidential candidate at the time, on the Republican ticket with Dwight D. Eisenhower.
One curious thing English told Romney during their private chat was that he was “a Florida politician.”
Apparently, there was something to English's claims of being involved in politics.
Six months after the deranged man's encounter with Romney, on Election Day 1964, English received 80,644 votes as Republican candidate for the Miami-Dade County school board. His Democratic opponent, Jack D. Gordon, won the election with 159,720 votes. But that was OK, as English wouldn't have been able to assume office as he was confined to a Michigan mental institution at the time.
A month after English lost his election, Grand Haven Mayor William Creason welcomed Gov. Romney for the dedication of the giant Nativity scene on Dewey Hill. In attendance was artist Betty Ellis, designer and painter of the 70-character display, who presented Romney with a painting of the Nativity scene.
“This is a season of goodwill to all men,” Romney said to those gathered. “And we should also be men of goodwill in pursuing America's great task of maintaining peace on earth.”
George Romney showed goodwill to all men, including Charles P. English, who barged into his office concealing a gun 49 years ago this spring.