James Peter Lazzati, who owned a utility-supply company and was the patriarch of a family with 11 children, died Tuesday of pneumonia at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Towson resident was 90.
Born and raised in Little Italy, he was a 1935 graduate of Loyola High School and earned a bachelor's degree at Loyola College. As a young man, he boxed at St. Wenceslaus Hall in East Baltimore and in 1981 was inducted in the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame.
During World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and was assigned to the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard as an instructor.
After the war, he earned a degree at the University of Baltimore's School of Law and was director of the Maryland Veterans Housing Commission. From 1950 to 1953 he was administrative secretary to Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. and was active in Northeast Baltimore Democratic politics.
"He could have run for political office successfully because he could walk into a room and be introduced to a dozen people and never forget a name," said John R. Cochran Jr., a long time friend who lives in Wilmington, Del. "He was a born leader and a great master of ceremonies in the events he ran."
In 1951 Mr. Lazzati married Rosemary C. LeCompte and started a family that grew to include five sons and six daughters.
In 1955, the Lazzatis began a tradition of mailing a greeting card with a photograph of the parents and their children - they then had four - in front of a Christmas stocking-lined fireplace in their Loch Raven Boulevard home. All were attired in flannel pajamas that year.
"Harried photographers raced to finish before the little boys started tearing off their bow ties," according to a 2005 Sun article about the family.
The family mailed the cards to Baltimore friends and relatives, and to kin in Varzi, a Northern Italian village near the Alps where Mr. Lazzati's father lived before he sailed to Baltimore in the early 1900s.
"Never forget where you came from," relatives in Italy told the elder Lazzati as he packed for America, the 2005 article said.
Over the years, the growing family assembled at their home and later at the altars of local churches for the portrait. The father made sure his children showed up for the photo, lined up properly and were well behaved for the photographer.
"All it took was one look from Dad and you knew you had to shape up," said his son Philip Lazzati of Towson.
The photo for the 51st card - with 28 Lazzatis - was taken the last week in October. The family hand-addressed and mailed 1,600 copies.
The same year the cards began arriving, Mr. Lazzati formed James P. Lazzati Co., a utilities-supply business based in Glyndon. He retired in 1992.
"He was a good salesman and a smooth talker in the best sense of the word," said Nicholas Mangione Sr. "'He never put on airs."
Mr. Lazzati served on the boards of Mercy High School and the Loyola College Alumni Association. He was also a member and past president of the Associated Italian-American Charities and received its 1986 Frank C. Marino Award. He was the Loyola College 1975 Man of the Year and received the Father Joseph M. Kelly S.J. outstanding community service award from Loyola High School.
He was a founder of the Monsignor Clare J. O'Dwyer Youth Retreat House in Sparks and also was the Catholic War Veterans' state commander and its national general.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church, 227 S. Exeter St., where he was a member.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include four other sons, Jimmy Lazzati of Glyndon, Joseph Lazzati of Finksburg, John Lazzati of Upperco and Paul Lazzati of Towson; six daughters, Virginia Kelland of Bethany Beach, Del., Mary Busby of Parkville, Dodie Lazzati of Towson, Joan Lazatti of Baltimore, Margie Downs of Laurel and Dolores Cowan of Upperco; and 10 grandchildren.