On Saturday, July 6, 1996, without first asking her parents, 14-year-old Melissa Gay took a train from her home in Connecticut to New York City.
That night, Melissa failed to come home.
The following morning, the 5’ 3” blonde-haired girl still hadn’t called home. “That’s when we knew something was not right”, said her distraught parents, Robert and Lynette Gay.
Robert Gay went to New York City to look for his daughter. Working with NYPD detectives, he discovered that Melissa had met up with two young men she knew; that they had taken her to an underground “rave” party Saturday night. And that she had taken several doses of the drug, Ecstasy.
Melissa was last seen Sunday morning at 11 a.m., in a park under the Whitestone Bridge; just hours before her father arrived in the city to look for her.
After that sighting, Melissa simply disappeared.
On July 12th, the New York Daily News ran the story as, “Fearful Kin Seek Missing Teen”:
“A distraught Connecticut family desperately searched yesterday for their teenage daughter, last seen early Sunday after partying at an all-night rave concert on Randalls Island.
“I just hope that somebody could find it in their heart to call and let us know how she is,” said Lynette Gay, Melissa’s mother. “I know she’s afraid of the dark”, she added.
As the days went by and her trail grew colder, Melissa’s parents grew more and more frantic. With manpower limited, the police investigation was getting nowhere.
Finally, Melissa’s father turned to his partner, CEO of the private equity-investment firm in which they both worked.
Robert Gay’s boss didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘I don’t care how long it takes, we’re going to find her.’ A few hours later, he and other executives of the Boston-based firm were on the shuttle to New York; preparing to organize a huge volunteer effort.
“My business partner stepped forward to take charge”, Robert Gay recalls. “He closed the company and brought almost all our employees to New York.” For Melissa Gay, a hero had appeared.
That hero was Mitt Romney.
Yes, Mitt Romney, Founder and CEO of Bain Capital, of which Melissa’s father, Robert Gay, was a partner.
The word “hero” gets overused today. In its classical sense, it always meant someone who goes way beyond normal human effort to achieve a noble purpose. It usually connotes sacrifice, as in for the good of others. It is in this classic sense that Mitt Romney, who we all know as the somewhat “square” politician who seems at times out of touch with the common man; rose above the common to achieve the heroic.
On Wednesday Romney told the other 11 managing directors at Bain Capital that finding a missing daughter was more important than operating their $1 billion investment firm.
By Thursday morning, Romney had closed the Boston office and brought down some 56 Bain Capital employees to walk the streets. These were soon joined by another 250 colleagues from various Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs, Price Waterhouse and Bankers Trust: all to help in the search for Melissa.
Mitt Romney had called in favors.
At the Laguardia Marriott Hotel a ‘war room’ was set up. 16 Bain employees worked day and night, coordinating the search. A New York Private Investigation firm was retained. An 800-toll-free hot line was set up for tips, coordinating the effort with the NYPD. Printing giant R. R. Donnelly was hired to print 200,000 fliers with a color picture of Melissa. Accountants in 3-piece suits put up posters on street poles; while cashiers at a pharmacy owned by Bain put fliers in the bag of every shopper.
Volunteers with cellular phones fanned out to clubs like the Limelight and the Tunnel; the Lollapolooza concert at Downing Stadium on Randalls Island; parties in Tompkins Square and Central Park; to Madison Square Garden and the Port Authority Terminal. Romney and other Bain employees scoured every part of New York and talked with everyone they could — prostitutes, drug addicts, runaways — anyone.
Romney and his Bain partners and all the business men who assisted them in the search for Melissa Gay did so on their own dime. All put aside their lives, taking not a penny in recompense. The search effort and the time of those searching was fully paid for by Mitt and Bain Capital.
“Most of us have children,” said Stephen Pagliuca, 44, a Bain managing director with four children. “That’s the most important thing in our lives. It wasn’t even a question. We just decided to do it.”
“Our children are what life is all about,” Mitt Romney said later. “Everything else takes a back seat.”
“It really overshadowed everything we did from a money standpoint,” said Romney. “The days and nights spent looking for Missy Gay were more valuable than some financial home runs that made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. I mean, money is just money.”
Then a teenage boy phoned in, having seen one of the televised “Help us find Melissa” appeals run by Mitt’s team. He asked if there was a reward; and then hung up abruptly. The NYPD traced the call to a home in New Jersey.
Searching the house, they found Melissa in the cold basement. Shivering, disoriented, nearly nude, experiencing withdrawal symptoms from a massive ecstasy dose.
Melissa was reunited with her family at 2:30 A.M. on the 13th July at the police station in Montville, NJ. Doctors said that another day of captivity and she might not have survived.
The Gays credit Mitt Romney with saving his Melissa’s life. “It was the most amazing thing”, recalls Robert Gay, “and I’ll never forget this to the day I die.
“What he did was literally close down an entire business. He basically galvanized an entire industry that just doesn’t do this, and got them all on the streets for 48 hours.”
Now back in school and fully recovered, Melissa and her parents are doing well.
Romney and his partners, however, were deeply moved by what they saw in their visit to the dark underbelly of New York, while putting up posters and talking to runaways outside seedy nightclubs and peep shows. Romney said he can’t escape some of the images, and carries them with him to this day.
“It was a shocker,” he said. “The number of lost souls was astounding.”
Romney tells the story of one particular teenage runaway girl.
The girl asked, “Why are you looking for her?”
“Because her parents miss her”, he answered.
“I wish my parents missed me like that”, she replied.
Robert Gay is now Managing Director, Co-founder, and the Chief Executive Officer of Huntsman Gay Global Capital; a billion dollar plus private equity firm headquartered in Palo Alto, California. 16 years later, he is still grateful to Mitt Romney for all he did to save Melissa. He supports Romney’s bid for the Presidency, and allows tells Melissa’s story in campaign ads.
“I’m not sure we would have gotten her back without him,” Gay says of Romney. “Mitt’s done a lot of things that people say are nearly impossible. But for me, the most important thing he’s ever done is to help save my daughter.”
Sometimes, it just takes a hero.
Follow up: My friend and fellow SLOB, “Mut” at TEMPLE OF MUT, wrote the following concerning this story:
The story is compelling, and I urge you to read the piece by following the link. Compare it to what Barak Obama would likely do in a similar situation. I think the story demonstrates how Mitt would actually be a leader in a time of crisis, and I think that is extremely important to know. I like what I read.
We cannot have Obama unchecked, being unconcerned with reelection for the next 4 years. For those of you venting against the probable Romney nomination, I would urge you to start digging around for reasons to pull the lever for him in November. There are many: Better First Lady, more sane Supreme Court pics, more lucid foreign policy, apt to be much more respect to following Constitutionally-based procedures….
Otherwise, if you are going to sit out or vote third party, at least have the cojones to actually pull the lever for Obama –is the most honest outcome to your internal drama.
Go check out her excellent site and this article at: