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.
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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.
“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.
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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.”
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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