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Anna Sammartino, 103, chocolatier who made life sweeter

Mrs. Sammartino had the pleasure of taste-testing her family’s products for some 90 years.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff/file 2013

Given that Anna Sammartino started selling chocolates when she was 13, it’s not surprising that people often asked decades later if she ever tired of the taste.

“I say, ‘No! I’m always nibbling,’ ” she recalled in 2013, a few days before turning 100, as she bit into a peppermint patty in Phillips Candy House, the Dorchester business her family opened in 1952.

Mrs. Sammartino, who was 103 when she died Thursday, sweetened the smiles of generations of Bostonians. And as the city’s oldest chocolatier, she got to taste-test her family’s wares for some 90 years, stopping by the store regularly even after retiring.

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“My dad always said, ‘If you make quality candy, they will come in droves. People will come for a good piece of chocolate,’ ” Mrs. Sammartino told the Globe.

Mrs. Sammartino’s father had worked for another candy maker in the 1920s when her mother said the family should open its own business.

Setting up a chocolate operation in the family’s Revere home, “he made the centers and my grandmother hand-dipped them,” said Mrs. Sammartino’s daughter, Mary Ann Nagle of Cohasset.

Soon after the family began selling chocolates, Mrs. Sammartino went to work. “I was 13. My mother and father said, ‘Now you can go out and sell in the store.’ And the inspectors would come around and I’d say, ‘I’m all of 15 years old,’ ” she recalled in 2013, adding: “They used to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, we know.’ In the old days, they were lenient.”

In Mrs. Sammartino’s role as the face of what became Phillips Candy House, “she learned from her parents that customer relations were really important and the only way you can please customers is to understand what they want,” her daughter said. “Somebody once said to me that she listened to everybody, it didn’t matter who you were. If you were 4 years old, she talked right to you — if you’re 55 years old. She had a knack for talking with people. Not at them, with them.”

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Speaking with boston.com last year, Mrs. Sammartino said that when it came to customers, her philosophy was simple. “This is the one thing I always stress: People love to be called by name,” she said. “They feel so important.”

Born in Boston’s West End, Sebastiana Strazzula was a girl when her family moved to Revere. Her parents, Philip Strazzula and the former Concettina DiMare, were immigrants from Augusta, on the east coast of Sicily.

Sebastiana became Anna, or just Ann to family and friends. By the same token, the family business became Phillips — adding an extra L to her father’s name to look a smidgen more American. “You’re an immigrant and you want to Anglicize as much as possible,” Mrs. Sammartino’s daughter said with a chuckle.

Mrs. Sammartino was the second of four children, and her brothers also worked in the family business.

“My mother was a very serious person. She was always business, right? Business, business, business,” Mrs. Sammartino said in the 2013 Globe interview. “But my dad could see the humor in everything. And you know something? We used to have more fun, work late at night . . . we would double over with laughter.”

She graduated from Revere High School and met Joseph A. Sammartino when a friend set them up.

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“My mother always wanted to dance, but she couldn’t because there was too much work to be done,” her daughter said, so instead she rode horses with a church group. One day an acquaintance arranged for Joseph to go riding, too, though he had never been on a horse, so he ended up on an old mare “and could barely keep up,” Mary Ann said.

Anna Strazzula married Joseph Sammartino in 1942, and the family opened its Morrissey Boulevard store a decade later. The Strazzula family expanded beyond candy and the holdings of the parent company, Phillips Family Hospitality, grew to include restaurants and hotels.

Living in Belmont for many years, Mrs. Sammartino and her husband had two children, but “growing up as kids, our house was not the traditional ‘in the ’50s’ home. My mother was at work,” their daughter said. After her long hours, though, “she always would spend the time with us. She would come home from work and if we were in bed, she would come in and sit and talk.”

Mrs. Sammartino and her husband retired in the 1980s. They spent winters in Naples, Fla., and eventually moved full time to Scituate, where the family had a home for many years. He died in 2012.

When Mrs. Sammartino turned 100 the following year, her undimmed enthusiasm was apparent during media interviews. “I love my reading. I love my crossword puzzles. I love existing. I love talking and I am so grateful,” she told WFXT-TV (Channel 25).

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“She was so aware of life. That’s the way to live,” her daughter said. “I don’t think she had any idea of the fullness of life that she shared with people.

In addition to her daughter, Mary Ann, Mrs. Sammartino leaves her son, Joseph Jr. of Scituate; eight grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate. Burial will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Scituate.

Until the day she died, Mrs. Sammartino lived in her Scituate home, a place she loved because her bedroom faced the Atlantic, which she always called “my ocean.”

“She was a voracious reader,” her daughter said, “and she did crossword puzzles until the end.”

Three years ago, Mrs. Sammartino quipped to wickedlocal.com that she wanted to be buried with crossword puzzle books in her casket “so when I get bored with being dead, I can do a puzzle.”

There was no time for boredom, however, during her years at Phillips Candy House, where work was sweet for reasons other than what they sold.

“As much as we worked hard, we always stopped off for fun,” she told the Globe in 2013. “We always found something funny to do . . . the time went by fast.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.