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Paterno’s Last Gift to Penn State

January 26, 2012

"That smirk," Jay Paterno said of his father's image at Beaver Stadium. "I've seen that face a million times." AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

For the past few days since Joe Paterno passed away, so many of us are feeling sad, not only because of our loss, but also because of the way he left us.

I’ve agreed with a number of Penn Staters who wish that he had passed before this whole scandal broke.  We certainly did not wish for his death any earlier.  It’s just that we wish he had been spared the media circus and feeding frenzy as the whole world started spewing toxic messages about our beloved school.

We wish that his last days on earth could have been peaceful and calm, so he could enjoy Penn State the way he always had.

Yet, now, as I watch his memorial service and see the images of so many people coming together to share their love for Paterno and his ideals, I wonder…

Was Joe Paterno’s death his last great gift to Penn State?

His passing gave us all a break from the finger pointing and judgement of the scandal.  His death gave us a much-needed reminder that Penn State is bigger than one man’s horrible crimes.

The news of Joe Paterno’s passing put Penn State back in the news for the wonderful things our school represents.  JoePa turned the media away from the negative and back toward the positive as his parting gift to all of us.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images Candles circle the statue of Joe Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium.

His death brought forth the stories that we have of him as a leader, philanthropist, teacher and role model.  We recall how down-to-earth and approachable he was.  It’s harder to find a Penn Stater who didn’t have a positive interaction with Joe than it is to find the many who did.  He walked around campus, showed up at fund-raisers, talked to students, and showed honest, sincere interest.

After all of the hateful comments and articles about how how Paterno was too big and too self-important, we’re reminded now that the opposite was true.  Paterno always turned the focus away from himself.  He would talk till he was blue in the face about the students, the charities, his players, and the school.  But every reporter who tried to get a story about Paterno himself had to go elsewhere to find it.

I don’t think Paterno literally gave up his fight with cancer.  That wasn’t who he was.  He was a fighter.  A Brooklyn kid, Brown alumnus, and Penn State leader.  Giving up wasn’t in him.

But it feels like, knowing how selfless JoePa was, when his time was up, he gave us all a few parting gifts.

"God gave you one last white out Joe Pa! Penn State Proud Forever!" Photo by Amanda Homan via Facebook

The gift of optimism — to focus on the good, as we remember his legacy.

The gift of togetherness — knowing that Penn State will always be a family who supports one another, even in our darkest hour.

And the gift of determination — to never give up, never quit, and always make an impact.

We miss you, Joe.  Thanks again, for another selfless gift.

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