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Francis Rosa, 91; Hockey Hall of Fame sportswriter

Fran Rosa on the beat in 1991.

In early May 1972, the New York Rangers lost the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals and would need to win the last three in a row to defeat the Boston Bruins.

Sitting glumly in a New York locker room, the Rangers couldn’t have been eager to see anyone associated with Boston, but in walked the Globe’s Fran Rosa, a sportswriter and a gentleman.

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Player after player opened up in interviews, perhaps because like all athletes, they knew that if they spoke to Mr. Rosa, their thoughts and words would grace the next day’s newspaper.

A generous reporter, he filled thousands of stories with quotes throughout his career, allowing the musings of college and professional athletes to illuminate the games they played.

Mr. Rosa, who helped build the Globe’s sports department into a powerhouse during his editing days in the late 1960s, and whose writing secured him a spot as a media inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, died of cardiac and lung ailments Wednesday in his Lexington home. He was 91.

In a Globe career that stretched from his days as a copyboy before World War II into the early 1990s, Mr. Rosa was best known for the two decades he covered the Bruins.

“He became one of the family,’’ said Harry Sinden, former Bruins general manager and president. “In those days, we didn’t seem to have the wall that’s between some of the writers and teams today. I went to dinner with him many times on the road and thought of him as a good friend.’’

Nate Greenberg, a retired Bruins executive, said that Mr. Rosa “loved the game of hockey as much as any reporter who covered the team. Fran was the ultimate gentleman for the many, many years he was around the Bruins organization. He was beloved by everybody: players, management, staff - everyone. That’s a wonderful legacy to leave.’’

That was as true in the Globe newsroom as it was in press boxes and locker rooms at arenas throughout the United States and Canada.

“You never heard a discouraging word from the players about Fran,’’ said Globe sportswriter Kevin Paul Dupont. “There was genuine affection for him, not only from those of us at newspapers, but from the players he wrote about.’’

Respect for his work could be measured in honors accrued. In 1987, the Professional Hockey Writers Association chose Mr. Rosa as the second of three Globe writers to receive the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, which brings induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Earlier, he received the Eastern College Athletic Conference Media Award.

In March 1966, the Globe announced his appointment as sports editor for the morning editions. Mr. Rosa and Ernie Roberts, who had just been appointed sports editor for the evening editions, began hiring talented writers who turned the Globe’s sports department into a powerhouse. Mr. Rosa was credited with bringing sports columnist Bob Ryan into the fold.

“What a legacy,’’ Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy said of Mr. Rosa. “When the Globe sports department became great, he was a crucial talent evaluator and a big part of it. Hiring Bob Ryan is all you need to know about that.’’

A few years later, Mr. Rosa returned to writing and chronicled the Bruins championships in 1970 and ’72, setting a standard for more than just reporting.

“He was just a dignified, classy guy,’’ Shaughnessy said. “He always looked great, very unsportswriter like. He was fit and he was dapper, and that really stood out.’’

Mr. Rosa’s respect for those he wrote about could also be seen in his reporting away from hockey rinks. In August 1975, he paid a visit to a legendary section of seats in Fenway Park:

This isn’t really no-man’s land.

It is everyman’s land - this concrete cliff that hangs above the bullpens at Fenway Park.

The bleachers - all 7,400 seats of them filled with experts. It is middle Bostonia. A melting pot. And there is a certain amount of snobbishness - the way the regulars look down their noses at the irregulars.

It is a place where fast friendships are made; fights are fought.

It is a place inhabited by 10-year-old kids; teenagers, young adults, adults, senior citizens; family groups, dating couples.

It is a place none of them would trade for any seat in the grandstand.

Born in Somerville, Francis James Rosa was the youngest of five children.

He sold newspapers as a boy and started working part time in the Globe’s sports department before serving in the Army during World War II.

In 1943, the Globe ran a short item noting that he had been promoted to sergeant, and that he had been assigned to write a feature for an Army publication about the recently completed Alcan Highway, which connected the lower 48 states to Alaska.

After the war ended, Mr. Rosa used the GI Bill to attend Harvard College, where he studied English and graduated in 1949.

While a student, he resumed part-time work at the Globe, writing in July 1948 about Ted Williams calling an ailing Babe Ruth to say “we are all rooting for you to get well’’ a few weeks before the Yankee slugger died.

After graduating, Mr. Rosa took a full-time job at the Globe, the only place he worked for the rest of his career.

A few years earlier, in 1944, he had married Ruth Baroni. They had met when he was supposed to go out on a date with one of her friends, and the friend decided to date someone else instead.

They had four children, including a daughter, Christina Farrah, who died in 2002.

During Mr. Rosa’s many years covering the Bruins, he traveled with the team through the hockey season, which allowed him to take many weeks off each summer.

“He had a pretty good-sized garden for a number of years, and that was his summer avocation once we all got out of the house,’’ said his son Fran Jr. of Billerica. “He still had a small one until last year.’’

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Rosa leaves two other sons, Thomas of Billerica and Jack of Woburn; and six grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Saint Brigid Church in Lexington. Burial will be in Westview Cemetery in Lexington.

At home, Mr. Rosa instilled in his children the same genteel approach that made him so welcome among reporters and athletes.

“I not only never heard him say a curse word, I never even heard him catch himself when he was about to say one,’’ Fran Jr. said.

“He was a consummate gentleman and had manners that wouldn’t quit. I would probably be more worried about facing him if I forgot to shake somebody’s hand than if I flunked a course, because there’s no excuse for that.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.
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