The women pioneers of the Boston Marathon and running movement are legion. Their names ring out: Bobbi Gibb, Kathrine Switzer, Sara Mae Berman, Micki Gorman, and many more.
These were the women whose determination, camaraderie, and love of the sport broke barriers for women in the competitive arena. But there were other pioneers, too, women who never ran a step in competition or pinned a race number to a singlet of their own, but whose contributions to the sport and New England running span decades and remain unmatched.
In the pre-pandemic days of mega-marathons, with their economic impact studies and million-dollar-plus charitable fundraising, the eco-system of distance running underwent a fundamental change. And that was all to the good as it reflected the sport’s growth and maturity.
Yet those of a certain vintage still recall the days when running events, even the Boston Marathon, had more of a front yard lemonade stand quality to them.
In those days before the internet, you’d find a flurry of entry blanks flapping under your windshield wipers when you returned to your car after a race. That’s how you found out about the next weeks’ offerings. That and at the local specialty running stores around town.
The cost to enter a race was minimal, just like the amenities, no swag, no medals (except for the top finishers), a few tee shirts. Entry fees ranged from $1 to $5 and you would tear off the bottom of the entry blank and mail cash or a check to the address listed – generally the race director’s house.
As recently as 1979, the entry fee to the Boston Marathon was $5, an increase of $2 from the year before. Those few dollars caused another BAA legend, Scotsman Jock Semple, to rail against the myriad of complainers and special-needs-requesters in his Scottish brogue from his Salon de Rub Down in the Boston Garden where he used to handle all the marathon entries.
You couldn’t post-enter the Boston Marathon, of course, but most other races around town you could. You might not decide to enter until the morning of the event. So, for a few dollars extra, you would just show up on race day and go find the post-entry table and wait in a line and sign up.
There was a neighborhood charm about such races, whether in West Roxbury, Holliston, Scituate, or Newburyport, Mass. And nine times out of ten, you would find the same two women sitting behind that post-entry table with a cash box, a stack of bib numbers, a box of safety pins ready to sign-up anyone who wanted to race.
Post-entering didn’t mean entering “after” the regular entries, rather “at” the post, in the sense of the starting post, like in a horse race, that demarcation of where the race would actually begin.
With entries all done on-line these days through third-party servers, there are no post-entries anymore. You could call that progress of a sort, but you don’t get to meet people like Gloria Ratti or her co-conspirator, Bev Whitney anymore, either. And for that, the sport has lost something truly unique.
Gloria and Bev weren’t racers, they were the wives of racers, Charlie and Ed. Especially Charlie, who would race two sometimes three times a weekend. And wherever Charlie was racing, Gloria was set up at the post-entry table with her native South Boston accent, ample chest, and ribald, cheek-blushing sense of humor.
Anytime a youthful male runner would get too antsy waiting to sign up, Gloria would tell him in her South Bahston (sic) accent, “Sweet-haht, go piddle with yourself for a few minutes, then come back and see me, OK?”
And he would move off newly crimsoned while everyone else would laugh as the story would instantly enter race lore.
And if there was another race in another part of Boston later that day – there was always another race in another part of Boston later that day – Charlie would likely be running. So Gloria would pack up her materials and, as she used to put it, “throw my boobs over my shoulder and see you there”.
You could say they don’t make them like Gloria anymore, but, tell you the truth, they didn’t make them like Gloria back then, either. And when you heard she worked for the CIA, you just looked at whoever told you like it was April Fool’s Day as you tried to square that circle. But I guess that’s why she was such a fine officer for nearly 40 years. You weren’t supposed to know.
I remember covering the Otto Essig masters races out in Westfield, Massachusetts one year. Afterward, the Whitneys and the Rattis went to the trunk of their car and pulled out the portable liquor cabinet. No beers for this bunch. No, sir. We are talking hard liquor advocacy.
These days, besides still working for BAA, which she’s been doing since 1971, and serving as vice president on the Board of Directors, Gloria is a fixture at Joan Samuelson’s TD Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in August, not as a worker, but as a guest.
As part of the race weekend, Gloria hosts a pasta and meatball dinner before the race at the BAA rooms at the Inn by the Sea. Cape Elizabeth resident and Gloria pal Linda Nickerson picks the story up from there.
“A number of years ago, she was renting my sister-in-law’s house because of some glitch at the Inn by the Sea. We were over there for the pasta dinner on a steamy night and she was lamenting about how hot it was. (Ex-BAA CEO) Guy Morse said, “ Gloria, you have an air conditioner in your bedroom!” Her reply, ‘I can’t even turn it on. I’m so mechanically challenged I have trouble fastening my bra!’ We have never forgotten that one.”
Long a champion of women’s running, among Gloria’s most valued contributions to the BAA has been curating the display of memorabilia housed at the BAA offices in the Back Bay in what’s as close to a museum as the old race has. As the marathon approached its 100th anniversary in 1996, Gloria began hunting for old medals, trophies, posters, shoes, and programs: anything tied to the Boston Marathon. Call her the Marathon Picker.
Her unflagging determination, love of the game, coupled with her Vegas-level comic timing, and sharp wit, loosened even the most hardened person’s hold on the treasures she sought for her collection. Indefatigable, that’s what she is, irreplaceable, too.
Happy 90th birthday, Gloria. Here’s to 90 more. Love from another in your legion of fans.
You can read more about Gloria in Roger Robinson’s excellent Runner’s World article here.
17 thoughts on “G-L-O-R-I-A”
Thanks so much for this lovely tribute to Gloria Ratti on her 90th birthday. I found it today when I learned about Gloria’s death. I couldn’t remember Bev’s last name and this came up in my search. I met Gloria and Charlie in 1979, shortly after meeting my now husband.
The occasion was a road race on Cape Cod.
Dinner with Gloria and Charlie the night before the race.
Met Bev the next day.
Road racing in New England would not have happened without people like Gloria and Bev Whitney.
Thanks very much,
Toni, Thanks for writing. covering, and sharing your singular perspective on All Things Running. You nailed this one with your vivid descriptions. See you down the road wherever! Jack
Toni, what a wonderful tribute to this incredible lady. Happy Birthday Gloria !!!
Thanks, Ellie. You lived through those halcyon days as another of the pioneers. Good times, indeed. Hope you’re well.
The combination of a great writer and a great subject produces this…..a perfect portrait of a wonderful lady. We just got off the phone with Gloria who is enjoying her birthday weekend. You’ve finally broken the spell as to her her true age. In her younger days, she would rather faint then reveal the particulars (yes, it did happen). Thank you so much for writing so that others can understand her true glory.
Thanks, Joann. Just building on the work done by Roger Robinson in his RW article on Gloria – with a little extra local Boston color thrown in. Stay well.
Gloria is the one person I most remember from my Boston Marathon runs (2). She was at the t-shirt pick-up area when I went there, mournfully sharing that I probably could not finish, d/t my long bout with plantar fasciitis and a “long” run of 3 miles then. She assured me I could defer the run another year. I wanted to jump across the table and hug her! If not for her being so totally involved in the race that she even handed out t-shirts and that was a member of the Board of Directors of the BAA, I would not have known. Thanks Gloria!
(and yes I did run and finish it the next year!)
Also, she came to Kansas City as an “escort” for Johny Kelley Sr. Not to toot her horn, always in support of others, that’s Gloria. What a wonderful and beautiful woman
Great story, Mike. Thanks for adding to the legend.
This is terrific. I passed it on to our Board of Governors and the B.A.A. staff.
From: ~ Wandering in a Running World ~
Reply-To: ~ Wandering in a Running World ~
Date: Friday, March 12, 2021 at 4:55 PM
To: Tom Grilk
Subject: [New post] G-L-O-R-I-A
Toni Reavis posted: ” The women pioneers of the Boston Marathon and the running movement are legion. Their names ring out: Bobbi Gibb, Kathrine Switzer, Sara Mae Berman, Micki Gorman, and many more. These were the women whose determination, camaraderie, and love “
She’s always been special. Not being able to be involved with the marathon anymore, I miss her. – Peter Stipe
I have known Gloria for about 20 years because of her presence at Beach to Beacon. She is one of the most memeroable people I have ever met and I have enjoyed my time with her immenselye because of her wonderful personality, and her acute and sharp sense of humor. You have heard the old adage of “a laugh a minute” and that fits this woman to a “T”! She is generous, warm, and caring, I feel so privileged that she’s in my life even though we only have the opportunity to meet up once a year at B2B but fortunately it’s over a 3 day period and I cherish my time with her!
Gloria leaves her mark wherever she goes.
Fortunately, that includes C.E. in the first week in August each (non-pandemic) year.
Thanks for the story, Linda. Hi to Bill.
T & T
Gloria has long been one of my all-time favorite people in our sport. I’m old enough to have just been part of New England racing in the days you describe…you have absolutely nailed the race and race entry environment! I’d known Gloria and Charlie casually through the road racing scene while I was an undergrad, but it was at the 1981 or 1982 Bermuda Marathon and 10K weekend with Marathon Tours that I really got to spend quality time with them both. At the Elbow Beach Hotel, we stayed up late one night with Eddie Sheehan playing cards, and Gloria used a lot of our bantering to chip away at my New England Catholic-boy naïveté and bring me up to speed on the “real world.” Funny stuff and as always sharp as a whip.
The New England running community had/has more characters per square inch than any other region in the world. Gloria is among the most memorable and well-loved. But she ain’t alone.
Not the first time I’ve heard of Gloria and her exploits, but you tell them in inimitable fashion, along with a wonderful stroll down memory lane. As Mike Fanelli would say, “Solid.” Thanks, Toni, and Happy Birthday, Gloria.
Terrific, Toni. You describe days and people that are all well remembered, but no one more memorable than Gloria—who is still with us every day at the B.A.A.. it would be a pallid and lesser place without her, for all of us.
Thanks, Grilk. Boy we had it good, didn’t we? Good luck with the 2021 version, BTW.