COVID-19 claims Mary Roman, 84, who deserved to win throws medals into her 100s

Mary Roman was a throws specialist who competed at worlds and was a frequent Rob Jerome photo subject.Mary Roman of Connecticut was a thrower who competed at worlds and was a frequent Rob Jerome photo subject.

In 2003, Mary Roman suffered a heart attack. Just a speed bump in life. As a high-schooler, she had polio — before the vaccine. (Riding horses strengthened her legs.) A masters athlete since 1991 — after seeing her late husband, Granville, compete in Senior Olympic swimming — she tried the half-marathon, sprints and jumps but made throws her specialty. She set countless American records.

Mary Roman, shown at age 73, was happiest when competing (or carrying torches).

At 84, Mary was entered at Baton Rouge. Coronavirus canceled that indoor nationals, and today it also wiped out the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Toronto world meet, where Mary would have excelled.

But in the deepest blow yet to the masters community, that effen bastard bug claimed Mary. Her son, Craig, was posting updates — many hopeful — and photographer Rob Jerome (himself in self-quarantine in New York City) passed along the news.

The Nancy on Norwalk blog, quoting son Michael, reported that Mary was taken off a ventilator about noon Monday and passed away six hours later.

Nancy added:

“Mary Roman was the mother of my closest lifetime friend, the late Warren Roman,” Patrick Ferrandino wrote. “She was the matriarch of her family of five sons, with many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, nieces, nephews and daughter-in laws. Her husband and one son predeceased her.”

Michael and his brother Kenneth have lived with their mother. Although they’ve been exposed to the disease, they can’t get tested because they aren’t showing symptoms.

“I don’t want to go out there and give it to somebody else and have them go through what I went through. But it’s just hard to get a test,” Michael Roman said.

Mary Roman had gone to Costco two days before developing symptoms, he said last week. She had also gone to church, according to her son.

“Who would [have] thought that going to the grocery store meant risking your life or, in the case of our dear friend Mary Roman, losing your life?” Ferrandino wrote.

Many people posted mournful comments, including former Mayor Peter Tucci:

Mary Roman was an outstanding citizen of Norwalk, a champion not just in Senior Olympics but in volunteer activities and city government as well. Although there is a tradition of partisan turnover in the few positions appointed by a Mayor after an election changes the party in control at City Hall, I asked Mary, who had been a long-term Republican city staff member, to stay on as the Assistant City Clerk after I was elected Mayor in 2001 and I never regretted my appointment. She served the city loyally, regardless of the political party of her colleagues in the mayor’s office.

She helped many Norwalk non-profit agencies, such as the Norwalk Senior Center, but never sought special recognition. As is well-known, Mary was a nationally prominent Senior Olympic athlete, but she kindly lowered her usual gold-medal standards to agree to be my partner in the 2-person “Guys and Dolls” golf tournament at Oak Hills (we didn’t win).

She loved to travel and to share stories with us recounting her large family reunions. I saw Mary for the last time just last month when she came to the Norwalk Library to help us honor a prominent volunteer, a task she had fulfilled herself for many years. We caught up about our families. She told me about her forthcoming athletic competition.

How much crueler does this horrendous virus now seem when it takes from us a person we knew so well, when she was still so full of life and so full of the spirit of giving? Thanks to her son Michael and the other members of her family for sharing Mary with us for so many active and memorable years.

Another comment noted that she was among members of her family who were models for Norman Rockwell paintings.

We have indeed lost a beautiful, kind and accomplished woman. I had the privilege of working with Mary in the Mayor’s office during Frank J. Esposito’s administration. I will always remember her first day of work when a constituent came in. She stood right up and said: “We have a customer” Mary brought her banking experience and professionalism to her work in local government. When she was beginning her career in the Mayor’s office, I suggested she become familiar with the City Code. She memorized it! I admired her drive and determination to compete in the Senior Olympics and always thought twice before asking if I could borrow the stapler or other heavy object lest it come flying over the desks like a shot put. When I visited the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge this past year, I was reminded of stories she told about her family being models in some of the artist’s most famous paintings. She was indeed a part of our nation’s history and a beacon in our community and our hearts. A light has gone out that we will truly miss. I wish all who loved her peace and safety in the days ahead.

Her local paper in Connecticut also remembered her.

Roman, known as one of the world’s top senior Olympians, died at Norwalk Hospital. She is the third Norwalk resident and at least the 11th in the state to die from the coronavirus.

Roman had been active in the community for decades. A banker for 35 years, Roman spent eight years as city clerk under three mayors. She also served on several boards and organizations, including STAR, Norwalk Senior Center, YMCA and the president of the Rotary Club.

In 1989, Roman began competing in senior track events. Two years later, she reached her first Nationals and eventually qualified for the World Senior Games and USATF Masters Track and Field Championships.

Roman won hundreds of medals and was named the Norwalk Sports Person of the Year in 2010 by the Fairfield County Sports Commission.

Roman once held the top-ranking in the U.S. and eighth in the world in the weight throw in the 75-79 age group. She was also ranked first in the nation in the super weight throw and ultra-weight throw, and second in the throws pentathlon. She’s also held the American record in the shot put in the women’s 65-69, 70-74 and 75-79 age groups.

Roman had been living with her son, Michael, 62, who told the news site NancyonNorwalk last week that his mother “seemed fine” and her condition was improving at the hospital.

But on Monday, Roman became the latest person to die from the virus.

I’ve been following Mary’s career since the late 1990s, a count-on-her presence at nationals and worlds with many friends.

In 2006, I preserved a newspaper profile of Mary headlined “Roman Wonder: Norwalk’s Roman takes aim at marks in U.S. Masters track as well.”

Some highlights:

Barbara Jordan, the best sprinter in the United States in the 70-74 age division, is amazed at how Roman excels in the throwing events and is also a strong sprinter.

“She’s got a great work ethic as far as training goes. To be a weight thrower and to want to do sprints because it helps her quickness, I admire her for doing that,” Jordan said. “She has worked hard to help her speed because it helps her explosiveness in throwing, and she has improved her time tremendously the last couple years.”

Jordan and Roman attended Springfield College together and recognized each other at a Masters track meet after not seeing each other for nearly 40 years. They’ve become great friends and often travel together to track meets.

Roman and her husband loved going to each other’s competitions to support each other and meet new friends before Granville passed away from cancer in 1999. Granville Roman was a popular teacher and guidance counselor in the Stamford school system and was principal at Turn of River Middle School until he retired in 1989.

In January of 2005, Mary Roman finished a half marathon while mixing in walking and running at Disney World and she raised $5,000 from sponsors for Team Leukemia as a member of Team in Training.

That was 20 months after her heart attack, and a month before she was supposed to compete in a Masters meet in Puerto Rico. She had chest pains, had trouble breathing, the chest pains got more severe and she dialed 911.

“I was very fortunate,” Roman said. “I had a good doctor, the ambulance came and got me to Norwalk Hospital and they transferred me to Bridgeport Hospital. Three months after my heart attack I had a nuclear stress test, and the doctor said everything’s all right.”

“Maybe after having a heart attack, where she might think: ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do this,’ but (instead) for her to say: ‘Yeah, I can do this,’ I just admire her tremendously,” Jordan said.

“That heart attack was just a headache, a minor setback for her,” said Roman’s son, Craig, who was a champion hurdler at Brien McMahon High School in the mid-1970’s. “When we saw her in the hospital, she said she wanted to get out of the bed and go because she felt great, I wasn’t really surprised that she was going to compete after her heart attack. She just wanted to get back out there and go. Nothing is stopping this woman. She’s just a remarkable woman.”

On the Fourth of July 2014, Mary posted a comment on my blog reporting the death of Canadian legend Olga Kotelko.

Mary wrote: “Everyone has said everything about Olga that I could say. She was an inspiration to me. I knew her at World Meets but really spent time and had meals with her at the NCCA/WMA in St. John’s. We even warmed up together there. I believe she has given us all encouragement to continue on no matter what age.”

If the measure of a masters athlete is how they’ve inspired others to run, jump and throw, Mary was a world champion. People are already pushing for a masters award to be named after her. I just want her name remembered. She was a player.

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About the Author

Ken Stone
Ken has followed track as an athlete, writer and webmaster since the late 1960s, and saw most sessions of track and field at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He also attended the 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Trials. He worked for 10 newspapers and now reports for Times of San Diego. Write him at TrackCEO@aol.com or kens@timesofandiego.com. Story tips always welcome!

10 Comments on "COVID-19 claims Mary Roman, 84, who deserved to win throws medals into her 100s"

  1. Roger Pierce | March 25, 2020 at 5:10 am | Reply

    Ken ,thank you so much for doing your post on Mary. She was the ultimate team mate on our Mass Velocity Track Team. There aren’t enough superlatives in the language to use when talking about this lovely , talented humble woman. I met Mary at a masters track meet in 1990, when she asked me for some sprint training advice. She was the kind of person that everyone immediately likes. I am so grateful that her family and others who knew her are seeing how many people loved her. I hope this post goes viral, so the rest of the world knows about her. God Bless you Mary… you made the world a better place wherever you went. You will be remembered ♥️♥️

  2. Following up on what Roger said, Mary was golden. Like Roger, I knew her for many years, and she hit the mark 100% of the time. No, I am not talking about the fact that she was a fine thrower (and an occasional sprinter), I mean that 100% of the masters community liked her. She was kind, had a warm heart, and always made me feel better. Mary, you were the best. I have tears in my eyes right now. Love you, Mary. You were sweet, lovable, and a friend to so many. You epitomized what masters T&F is all about.

  3. David E. Ortman (M66) Seattle, WA | March 25, 2020 at 4:14 pm | Reply

    Condolences to the family. A remarkable career and an inspiration.

    Brickbats, though for USATF -Masters website which still lists the WMA-Toronto meet as still active and is still taking entries for the Masters outdoor meet in NC the beginning of July. Apparently USATF’s concern is all with its elite athletes and not with the Masters age groups.

    • Jerry Bookin-Weiner | March 29, 2020 at 2:57 am | Reply

      Which USATF – Masters website are you talking about? WMA is coming off. Entries for Greensboro have never been opened, though information for the meet is up on the usatf.org website because there is still a chance (however small it might be) that the meet will happen. Entries will not open until mid-May at the earliest unless it becomes clear earlier that it is highly likely the meet will happen. That would give a month for entries to come in; since 95% or more of all entries for national meets come in during the last month that shouldn’t inconvenience anyone.

      Our primary concern is the health and safety of Masters athletes and that is what is driving our decision making on meet cancellations. It is for that reason that we closed entries for the handful of regional meets that had already opened registration and will begin postponing/cancelling them in the coming weeks should the situation with COVID-19 remain as it is today.

      • David E Ortman | April 1, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Reply

        It is good to know that USATF is concerned about masters athletes. However, on March 20th, USATF CEO Max Siegel wrote a letter to the USOPC, requesting that the Olympics (July 24-August 9) be postponed.

        It would be helpful if USATF would post any letter it wrote to WMA requesting that the WMA-Toronto meet (July 20-Aug. 1) also be postponed.

        As of April 1st, the USATF Masters website still carries no cancellation/postponement notice for the WMA-Toronto meet.
        https://www.usatf.org/programs/masters/masters-track-field

        and the USATF Outdoor Masters Championship Meet in N.C. (July 9-12) has not been postponed, even though the later occurring Olympics and WMA-Toronto meets have been.

        Yes, this is a very chaotic time across the country, with no track meets and no tracks open for training. In addition, the Governor of Virginia has ordered residents to stay at home through June 10th, and other states will likely follow. How would USATF Masters justify putting on a meet in North Carolina the beginning of July under these circumstances?

  4. Abe Bernstein | March 25, 2020 at 8:54 pm | Reply

    Mary , like Roger ,members of Mass Velocity, as I am. She was truly an unforgettable warm,kind and intelligent woman. One that made you comfortable just to be in her presence. Just a couple of years older than me. I have the distinct feeling that she left us to soon. She was a great competitor and an even greater person. She will be missed by our running community.

  5. Kathy Bergen | March 26, 2020 at 9:25 am | Reply

    Mary was a talented thrower and a lovely woman. She always had a smile on her face. It was always fun to see her at the big meets. I will miss her. I will keep Mary and her family in my thoughts and prayers.

  6. Craig Roman reports on Facebook:

    We wanted to inform our family and friends that tomorrow our mother will be laid to rest
    We are so sorrowed that due to this horrible virus, we are unable to have calling hours or the funeral service that mom deserves. We have so many limitations and more than anything we want safety for our family and friends.

    Rest assured, when all of this blows over, we will be arranging for a proper mass and memorial. One that is suitable for such an amazing and loved woman!

    We are currently trying to work on some sort of a live feed. Unfortunately we are not savvy in this area. We will be in touch if we are successful!

    Everyone stay healthy. We love you all.

  7. Mary Roman left us far too soon. She was part of the fabulous age group cohort of which I am proud to be a member. At senior games, National Masters track meets, and WMA international meets Mary was a star. As we age we know that our ranks will thin and some have already left us because of health or death. I will miss her smile, her joy at competing, and her example of how to get better and stronger despite aging.

  8. One thing that almost goes without mentioning (but is still important) is that Mary Roman was a great traveler. Yes, I remember having the honor of being her seatmate on the plane from Detroit to Appleton, Wisconsin, as both of us were going to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, one of the best facilities we ever had for outdoor nationals. Yes, it was 2009, and she was one of the many great names to grace the all-star lineup in Oshkosh. Who can forget Barbara Jordan and Audrey Lary? What about the M45 battle in the 100 that year, with Lonnie Hooker (10.93) prevailing over Allan Tissenbaum (11.22)? The results showed so many terrific performers who seem to have largely dropped out of our meets.

    Yes, Mary was not reluctant to travel far and wide from Norwalk, Connecticut. In 2019, there she was in Winston-Salem (617 miles away), and in 2018 she was winning gold in Landover, Maryland (268 miles from Norwalk). In 2017 she was in Albuquerque, New Mexico for indoors (2063 miles from Norwalk), and she did very well.

    Next year, with the indoors at the Armory in Manhattan, NY, Mary would have gotten a real break, as she might even have gotten there in less than an hour from suburban Norwalk. I’m sure she would have been there if her health had been good. With the meet planned for March 2021, does anyone have any idea of the plans for the big event, or is it much too soon? I am speaking, of course, about plans for having one (possibly two) meet hotels in Manhattan. What about special tours to see Manhattan’s highlights?

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