Louise Rossetti’s running career began in 1971 when she was 50 and took an exercise class at the Lynn YMCA. The instructor “had us running around the suspended track,” she recalled years later. “I said, ‘Gee, can’t we go outside and run?’ ”
The lap-after-lap boredom that left her wondering if she could run an entire mile vanished when she traded the track for the open road. “There was a 5-mile race in Lowell and I was asked if I could run in it,” she said. The date: May 2, 1971. Her time: 53 minutes. She tied for last in what was the first of thousands of races she would run over the next four decades.
Mrs. Rossetti, who died June 30 in a Saugus nursing care center, a day after turning 93, could effortlessly rattle off such details because she kept scrapbooks with the results of every race she ran, along with newspaper clippings, bibs with her entry numbers, and even notations about the weather.
Memorabilia quickly overflowed the display case her late husband built to house her racing memories as she became an institution in Boston running circles, someone who was more inspirational at the back of the pack than those breaking the finish line tape.
She belonged to at least eight running clubs and competed in 164 races in 2001, the year she turned 80, sometimes competing in two on the same day.
“I think runners are a great breed of people,” Mrs. Rossetti told the Globe the following year. “They treat me like a queen. I’m embarrassed, really, by all the attention they shower upon me.”
In 1998, she set a record for women 75 and older in the Mount Washington Road Race; five years later she became the first woman over 80 to complete the 7.6-mile race. She was 81 for the 2003 race and ran faster than five others, including a 38-year-old man. Bob Teschek, who was then the race director, told the Globe that Mrs. Rossetti was “the only person I know who always runs with a smile on her face.”
The high point in her running career arrived in December 2001 when she ran briefly in Charlestown, carrying the Olympic torch for one leg of a relay that was en route to Salt Lake City.
“When I think of a role model and somebody I want to be like someday, it’s Louise,” Janet Montgomery of Somerville, who was among those who nominated Mrs. Rossetti for the torch-carrying honor, told the Globe a few months later. “She has such a positive attitude. I’ve never seen her down.”
The oldest of nine children, Louise Bernazani was born in Boston and grew up in Everett, where she graduated from Everett High School. She went to a business school in Boston and was a secretary at a steel company when she went with a friend to a wedding and met Peter A. Rossetti.
They married in 1945, settled in Saugus, and he started an insurance company two years later. She helped with the office work and bookkeeping.
“Obviously she did a great job bringing us all up, but she wasn’t your average mother,” said her son, Peter Jr. of Saugus.
With the energy she later brought to road races “she was active in all kinds of things, from Cub Scouts to band parents to all the activities kids would want their parents involved in,” he recalled, “sometimes to excess.”
As a Cub Scout leader, she was always the den mother. With the band parents, she was treasurer.
Her children responded in kind when they were older and Mrs. Rossetti was ramping up her running. For the first Bonne Bell Mini Marathon in 1977, a race now called the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, her daughters Donna Rossetti-Bailey of Marshfield and Suzanne Maria Rossetti made a banner that read: “No. 655 Fastest Mom in Town.” At the finish line “they were there waiting for me,” Mrs. Rossetti recalled in 2001 when, at 80, she competed in the race for the 25th consecutive year.
In 1981, a decade after Mrs. Rossetti began racing, she and her husband were visiting their younger daughter, Suzanne, who had moved to Arizona. The day they were to return home, she was supposed to drive them to the airport, but never appeared.
A few days later, they learned that Suzanne had been killed by two men who had offered to help when she locked her keys in her car outside a convenience store. The men were convicted of murder in the death of Suzanne, who had been president of her Saugus High School class, an honor student, and a cheerleader.
“That was a turning point in all of our lives,” Mrs. Rossetti’s son said. “Going through all that experience, the trial and everything else, was pretty horrendous.”
Talking about Suzanne in 2002, Mrs. Rossetti said her daughter “was just a perfect young lady. She was such a good person.”
Mrs. Rossetti competed more often after Suzanne was killed, and more still after her husband died in 1993.
“It’s a release,” she told the Globe in 1998, adding, “I just like to run. You forget everything, noticing the flowers or somebody is putting on a new porch, or whatever.”
She also launched the annual Louise Rossetti Women’s 5K Race in Beverly. The proceeds benefit a scholarship fund in her daughter’s name and the Beverly Recreation Department children’s programs.
“This year was the 21st running,” her son said. “There were some doubts about whether she was going to be able to attend. Fortunately, because of the assistance of hospice, they were able to get her up there for the race. That was the 18th of June and she died on the 30th. She was there at the finish line, welcoming people in.”
In addition to her son, Peter, and daughter, Donna, Mrs. Rossetti leaves four sisters, Ethel Schillinger of San Diego, Marion Pearson of Minneapolis, Helen Prizio of Saugus, and Claire Frassica of Chelmsford; three brothers, Paul Bernazani of Vienna, Va., George Bernazani of Saugus, and John Bernazani of Chelmsford; and four grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in Blessed Sacrament Church in Saugus. Burial will be in Riverside Cemetery in Saugus.
Several years ago, Mrs. Rossetti set aside a few races to make time to star in the film, “Run, Grammie, Run.”
“She’s a breath of fresh air. She’s got a marathon spirit in her,” David Singer, the writer, director, and producer, told the Globe in 2006.
His independent film featured Mrs. Rossetti as a matriarch who decided to train for a marathon as a way of coping with aging. At one point during filming, she was 85 and playing a character who was a decade younger, though the whole concept of acting seemed to be the biggest challenge.
“I’m not accustomed to doing something other than being Louise Rossetti,” she said.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.