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.