I am not a Penn State grad.
I have never attended Penn State University.
I have never done business with Joe Paterno or Penn State in any fashion.
But I love the man.
Have, in fact, loved him for 44 years.
My father died when I was two, and my mom had no interest in re-marrying because, as she put it, “I’m already married!” She provided for my brother and me, working hard to ensure we had everything we needed.
And she gave us bonus love.
When I was a teenager, singing in a rock and roll band, my mom was concerned about the lack of male influence in my life. She told me to find a role model, someone I could look up to. She said to pick that person, but choose wisely. She said, “Choose a person of high character. If you do, he will never let you down.” She said, ”Watch how he handles adversity and success, and emulate his behavior.” She also said, “If it turns out you made the wrong choice, you can learn from that, too.”
About that time I read an article in a magazine about a young coach at Penn State who had an idea for a “grand experiment.” He wanted to coach kids to be student athletes. He vowed to run a clean program, and promised to take a personal interest in his athletes’ academic life. He wanted to graduate–not football players–but citizens of the world.
I began following Joe, and over the years gained enormous respect for the life lessons he taught. Joe reinforced the lessons I’d learned from my mother about integrity, loyalty, generosity, commitment, and others. I highlighted many of those lessons in a book I wrote 30 years ago, “Qualities of Character.”
Over the years I watched Joe experience success and setbacks, and my mom was right, he never let me down. Joe is still coaching, feisty as ever, and still runs a squeaky-clean program and continues, year after year, to have one of the highest athlete graduation rates in the nation. He has personally donated more than $5 million to Penn State, and together with his wife, Sue, Joe has procured–get this–$1 BILLION in donations to his beloved university!
When I finally got a chance to meet Joe in person, I told him how he had positively impacted my life. I said, “In fact, you’re the second best role model a guy could have.”
He said, “Who’s the best?”
“I’d like to meet her,” he said.
“She’s a hard core Red Sox fan,” I warned.
“I’m a Brooklyn Dodgers fan,” he said.
He laughed. “They shoulda stayed in Brooklyn.”
–Joe could probably tell you the last day the Dodgers played in Brooklyn: September 24, 1957, when they beat Pittsburgh 2-0.
“They shoulda stayed”? –Well, maybe so. Joe had tons of offers to coach elsewhere for more money. But he stayed at Penn State all these years anyway. He remained faithful to his school, just as my mom remained faithful to her deceased husband.
They say it takes all kinds to make a world, but I can’t help thinking what a much better world it would be if there were more people in it like Joe Paterno and my mom.