Rosemarie Ross wrote countless incredible stories during her pioneering, legendary sports writing career.
But she never wrote the greatest one of all.
Ross was too humble to ever be comfortable writing an autobiography.
Ross was a child in war-stricken Germany during World War II but became the embodiment of the American Dream, breaking down walls in a male-dominated profession to have a sports writing career where she covered the most iconic events of the early 1980s and became one of the nation’s preeminent boxing writers in the 1980s and 90s.
Ross’ more than four-decade award-winning writing career began in Kansas City and included stops in Philadelphia (Philadelphia Journal) and New Jersey (Trenton Times, North Jersey Herald & News) before 19 years at The Mercury in Pottstown prior to her retirement in 2015.
A life defined by her ability to get to the heart of each story subject, colleague and loved one, ended last Friday when Ross died at the home of daughter Mercedes Ross in Ulster Park, N.Y.
Ross was under hospice care in the last month due to worsening heart and stomach conditions after suffering deteriorating health following a stroke in December 2019.
She is survived by her daughter Mercedes, and her granddaughter Mercedes Czyz, of Rockhill, S.C. Her daughter Kimberly Czyz died in 2006 after a 10-year battle with breast cancer.
Every story was personal
More than her coverage of the Miracle on Ice, the Phillies’ 1980 World Series championship or the legendary fights of Sugar Ray Leonard or Muhammad Ali, Ross’ career was defined by her ability to connect with people and treat each story and subject as special.
“She was a great storyteller but also had a warm and genuine interest in other people's stories,” said former Mercury editor Nancy March. “Her humility kept hidden the incredible accomplishments of her career — it was always a surprise to a new reporter when they learned the places she had been, stories she had written and sports figures she had interviewed.”
Along with many national and state journalism awards, Ross was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.
“Rosemarie Ross was one of the finest reporters and people I've met,” said NHL.com senior writer Shawn Roarke, a former colleague of Ross’ in North Jersey. “She had no fear when it came to a story and was as tenacious as they come, whether covering big-time boxing, high-school football or news. People trusted her to tell their stories, which is a gift. She was one of a kind.”
Childhood in Germany
Born Rosemarie Hofem in Gonsenheim, a suburb of Mainz, Germany, she endured a challenging childhood in a city that was the target of bombings during World War II.
“They had to hide in the basement while the bombing was happening and they lived on the potatoes they had in the root cellar,” according to daughter Mercedes Ross.
Rosemarie became fluent in English in her schooling and visited the United States for the first time at age 15, staying with her elder sister who resided in East Lansing, Mich. Though her sister encouraged her to emigrate to the U.S., Rosemarie returned to Germany and worked as a translator for the United States Army while continuing her education.
That is where she met her husband, the late Richard Ross. The young couple moved often between Germany and Richard Ross’ native Kansas City. By age 20, she was a mother to a pair of daughters, Kimberly and Mercedes.
The family eventually settled in Kansas City during the early lives of Kimberly and Mercedes. As the girls advanced into schooling age, Richard Ross encouraged his wife to pursue a career in writing. “He was ahead of his time in his appreciation for what women could accomplish and his respect for my mother,” Mercedes Ross recalled.
Breaking into the boys’ club
Despite the uphill battle of trying to break into the boys’ club of sports writing, Rosemarie gained traction as a regular contributor to the St. Louis-based Sporting News and international news service United Press International (UPI). Her charm and professionalism allowed her to break through the suspicion of teams, players and their wives over having a woman covering the team.
While frequently covering the Royals in the early 1970s, Ross was not admitted into the male-only press box, relegated to the steps outside. In 1973, when Kauffman Stadium was built, a second press box beside the main area was created for women. The only one at the time, Ross had her own room.
“Eventually when I went back years later when they were in the playoffs, they had made it the photographers’ room,” Ross said in 2015. “I kidded the guys, ‘They made that for me.’”
Ross was left to fend for herself and her daughters when her husband left unexpectedly. She moved to the East Coast in 1976 and began the first of two stints at the Trenton Times.
It was during those years that Ross and her daughters began referring to themselves as the “three musketeers,” a reference Ross often used when talking about her daughters. “After my father left, we had to rely on each other,” said Mercedes Ross. “As we became adults and moved around a lot, we made sure to talk often. No matter how far apart we were, we were always the three musketeers, helping each other in any way we could.”
Ross was fiercely protective, her daughter recalled. “She was the sweetest person — but not if you messed with her family.”
“Her daughters and granddaughter were everything to her,” March said, “and the loss of Kim was devastating.”
Ross was quick to talk of their accomplishments — Kim was a successful model and actress with recurring parts in “Dallas,” “Loveboat” and sitcoms of the 1980s. She acted in several movies and had a major role in the 1988 film “Pumpkinhead.” She then started her own photography business and won national awards for her portraits.
Mercedes worked her way through college, getting a degree in economics and then an MBA from Rutgers while working as a sales and marketing manager for several Fortune 500 companies. Now a Realtor, she is a top performing associate broker for Coldwell Banker. “We were raised to believe we could do anything,” Mercedes Ross said.
Mercedes Czyz — “little Mercedes” when Ross mentioned her — is a magna cum laude graduate of SUNY New Paltz and works as a marketing manager for Texas Roadhouse national restaurant chain. She has her own photography business, followed faithfully by her grandmother on Twitter and Instagram.
“Mom was a Twitter queen,” Mercedes Ross said. “She updated me every morning and every night with what was happening on Twitter, no matter what.”
Covering Philly pro sports — and boxing
In 1978, Ross moved on to the upstart Philadelphia Journal as a columnist. Despite having only a four-year run, the Journal is considered among the finest sports sections the region has known. Ross was tasked with the cover story on the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt for the Journal’s premier edition.
A year into her run at the Journal, she and the boxing beat found one another and formed a partnership that would highlight her career.
Ross covered the biggest fights of the late 70s and early 80s: “Sugar” Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, Leonard’s battles with Roberto Duran including the “No Mas” fight, and the classic “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler-Hearns title fight. She was also there for Larry Holmes’ title reign and his showdown with Muhammad Ali, as well as Ali’s final fight against Trevor Berbick.
Beyond the ring, she wrote features on Philly’s pro sports teams and the stars of the day like Pete Rose, Tug McGraw, Wilbert Montgomery, Ron Jaworski and Julius Erving, and a weekly column during an era and year (1980) when the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers made their respective league’s championships.
That year included coverage of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., an assignment that featured one of the iconic sporting events in American history: the Miracle on Ice.
United States 4, USSR 3 in the men’s ice hockey medal round wasn’t just a victory for the Americans, it was equally moving for a German-born scribe as a political and social triumph.
“That’s the only time I cried, when I watched the Miracle on Ice,” Ross said in 2015.
Following the boxing greats
Ross returned to the Trenton Times after the Philadelphia Journal folded at the end of 1981 and maintained strong ties with the boxing community, namely connections with top trainers Emmanuel Steward and Lou Duva. Steward, who died in 2012, trained 41 world champions, including Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitchschko and Thomas Hearns. Duva, who died in 2017, trained 19 world champions including Pernell Whittaker, Arturo Gatti, Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Ross’ future son-in-law, two-time champion Bobby Czyz. (Czyz married Ross’ daughter, Kimberly, in 1992.)
In 1988, Ross moved to the North Jersey Herald and News, where she continued as a sports writer and columnist, maintaining the boxing beat while covering the New York Giants and Jets and the other pro sports teams.
She had a brief stint as a news writer with the Herald and News and left an impression there, too.
“Most people knew her through her sports writing, but I worked with her news side — and she was a wonder there, too,” said former colleague Roya Rafei. “Her columns were special. She was fearless in the field and with her words.”
Having grown disillusioned with the increasingly cutthroat nature of pro sports coverage, Ross shifted her attention locally when she moved to The Mercury in Pottstown in 1996.
A favorite among colleagues
Ross was a role model to countless colleagues.
“She had a rare gift for understanding other people's challenges, an empathy and humility that defined her both as a writer and a friend,” said March. “She let me know often that she admired my ability to manage in a tough environment, treating me as if I was her role model but really, she was the pioneering female journalist role model to me and everyone who knew her.”
“As a boxing fan, I used to read Rose’s stories in the Philadelphia Journal during its all-too-brief heyday. So it was a thrill when I was fortunate enough to work with her,” said former Mercury and North Jersey Herald & News managing editor Jack Croft. “Rose was a real pro, who could hold her own against the most obstinate and obnoxious athletes, and find the human side to any story.”
Ross came to Pottstown as a columnist and then carved a niche by covering cross country, swimming and track and field, cultivating relationships with the area’s athletes, long-standing coaches and athletic staff members.
Having covered the biggest sports stars of the era, Ross could have been too big-time for the high school athletes of a small community. But what made Ross so special was her ability to see everyone for their qualities and talents.
“She treated every high school athlete as if they were future major league all-stars or Olympic medal winners,” March said. ”She would tell stories about Carl Lewis or Julius Erving or George Foreman and then sit down and write 40 column inches about the winner of that day's cross country meet.”
Ross was beloved for her affable personality and tenacity, a unique blend of tender and tough that left an impression on everyone she encountered.
“Rose was one of the good ones,” said Spring-Ford track and field coach Danielle Stauffer. “She was so funny, quirky and above all fair. As a female in a male-dominated sports world for her entire career, I appreciated her grit and fire.”
In her own words
Ross’ ability to find the humanity in every story flowed through reports of boxing to high school swimming. Her October 1980 column in The Philadelphia Journal was vintage Rose in its celebration of unsung heroes in the National League pennant victory by the Phillies over the Houston Astros:
HOUSTON — Too exhausted to talk, they just held each other and let the champagne soak the hard concrete floor of the clubhouse. The half open bottles dangled from their limp arms and the tears mixed in the sweet victory brew on the ground. It had been such a hard and troublesome road to the World Series.
But last night the Phillies showed their true grit, reaching farther than most people thought them capable, wrestling the National League pennant away from the clawing and scratching Astros with a thrilling 8-7 win in the 10th inning. "It took us an awful long time to get here," said Greg Luzinski. "People so often said we didn't really want it. I think we showed them this time we did. …
Perhaps it was only fitting that this should showcase so prominently the men who have gotten so little credit and done so much by coming through in clutch situations all season long. And the youngsters that mean so much to the Phillies.
The column then goes on to highlight the rookie pitcher and veteran who came off the bench, with less mention of the team’s larger headliners.
It was no mistake Ross’ Journal column was named "Getting to the Heart of Sports." Through it all, that was the goal and gift of her life.
A graveside service will be held Friday, July 9, at 1 p.m. at St. Bernard's Cemetery in Bridgewater, N.J.