At the Republican National Convention in Tampa last night, Ann Romney's objective was clear. The task was to humanize her husband and prove to America that he is much more than a successful businessman willing to give it his best to save the nation from economic catastrophe.

It didn't surprise those who know the 63-year-old mother of five and grandmother of 18 that she was able to hit a home run in front of millions for her husband's campaign.

Unlike Hilary Rodham Clinton, Mrs. Romney has always embraced and even cherished her role of being a homemaker. While on the campaign trail, she's been known to give out pies and her grandmother's Welsh skillet cakes to the media hordes.

Some left-wing critics have ignorantly portrayed Mrs. Romney as being simply playing the dutiful wife. But her closest friends know that this is a woman of great strength and courage.

Pamela Hayes Peterson, who has known Mrs. Romney since the sixth grade and was a bridesmaid in her wedding, knows of her strength.

"She is NOT subordinate, trust me," she said in an Associated Press interview. "Did she want to be in the public eye? Probably not. She is so gracious and she loves him so much that, if it's important to him, she will come outside of her comfort zone to be where she needs to be for him. But he will do the same thing for her."

As we found last night, that can mean leaving her comfort zone to tell her husband's story to national television audience.

There is a story from the Romney family album that goes against the perception that the Romneys were born into wealth and enjoyed the luxuries of a catered upbringing.

After they were married and honeymooned in Hawaii, the couple set up housekeeping in Provo, Utah, where Mitt had enrolled at BYU. They rented a $62-a-month basement apartment which included carpet remnants covering the cement floor. Mrs. Romney said these were not easy years and admitted there were plenty of meals with pasta and tuna fish.

"The funny thing is that I never expected help," Mrs. Romney said in an interview. "My father had become wealthy through hard work, as did Mitt's father, but I never expected our parents to take care of us."

The fact that the couple endured the hard lessons and made their own way in those early years has been lost in the Democrats' endless chirping about "tax cuts for the rich" and "top one-percent."

In 1988, Mrs. Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system. Her condition has been in remission since she received a year of aggressive treatments of intravenous steroids. But flare-ups can occur under constant stress, such as the kind sparked by a national political campaign.

But Mrs. Romney has yet to use that as an excuse to avoid the grilling questions from the media, such as her husband's choice for vice president or the Democrats' insistence that the Romney's release additional tax returns.

If Republican strategists are smart, they will continue to have Ann Romney play a key role as the presidential race heads for the homestretch.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com