I met Joe and Sue Paterno only once. It was at a Special Olympics of Pennsylvania fundraiser at which I was the emcee and the Paternos were the honorees. A photo of the coach and me still sits among other pictures on the bookshelf in my office. It was taken at the end of a fun, genuine evening, in which Coach Paterno and his wife were recognized for some of the ways they have spent their time and money, making better the lives of thousands of young people in Pennsylvania. Coach and I engaged in good-natured, competitive banter throughout evening. For the record, he won, though I’d like to consider it a tie worthy of overtime. Mr. and Mrs. Paterno were very gracious, even inviting my wife and me to stop by the house sometime. That kind of invitation was common from the Paternos.
My freshman year at Notre Dame was Ara Parseghian’s last year as head football coach. He was so highly respected on campus that when students were tired of the South Bend snow, some would look to the sky and say, “Ara, stop the snow.” Success in football brings adoration, but, some coaches, as other educators, also earn respect through their ability to teach, to lead by example and to inspire.
As I think about Mr. Paterno’s life and passing, I believe that the Penn State community and the larger society will eventually understand and accurately describe the life of Joe Paterno. For now, I join many others in offering my condolences to Sue Paterno and the Paterno family .
I don’t plan on removing the photo from my shelf anytime soon.
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