NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Many residents were surprised to hear Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan make a reference to Northborough’s Nixon family during his debate with Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday night — especially the Nixons themselves.
In 1995, Robert and Reed Nixon, two brothers who attended Algonquin Regional High School, broke their necks on the way home from their Mormon church meeting when their van flipped over in Marlborough. Though the friends and family members riding in the van were not seriously injured, both brothers were left quadriplegics as a result.
News of the accident quickly spread among members of the LDS church in the area, and that’s when Mitt Romney — having just lost his 1994 bid to unseat the late Senator Ted Kennedy — entered the picture.
The family was already struggling with medical bills, and as Ryan explained during the debate, Romney offered to help by paying for the boys’ college tuition.
"[Romney] said, ‘I know, Mark, you have big issues, and this is a big item that you don’t have to worry about,'" the boys’ father, Mark Nixon, recalled in a phone interview on Friday.
Romney, Nixon said, basically wrote the family "a blank check."
As it turned out, the family never used the money: Robert attended Brigham Young University on a scholarship, while Reed received free tuition at Bentley University where Nixon is a professor. But the family says they are grateful for other things the Romneys have done.
For example, shortly after the accident, Romney asked if he could bring his family over for Christmas. Nixon recalled that Romney took his sons with him to shop, insisting that they go as a family to buy presents for the Nixon boys and their siblings.
"I would have expected them to be any other place during Christmas," Nixon said. "I’ve always felt, personally, that they’ve taught family values to their children."
Nixon agreed that Ryan told this story to convey a side of Romney that few people have had a chance to see.
According to Sheryl, Ryan called the family a few days before the debate to learn the whole story. "We were very surprised," she said. "We expected him to use it during campaign speeches."
"He had the same impression that many others get," Nixon said of Ryan’s reaction. "They’re just amazed at the generosity."