News Columns & Blogs

Joe Paterno: 3 lasting memories

Like many Penn Staters, I have special memories of Joe Paterno. These did not come during my many years as a football fan, from student days to the first national title in New Orleans, to Big Ten road trips and the Rose Bowl in the second year.

My special memories have occurred in the last decade plus, one while working in Harrisburg and two while working here. I want to share them today.

In 2000 my mother was in a nursing home, after years of going to Penn State games. She wouldn't be able to attend any more. She had Lou Gehrig's disease and was losing all motion.

Just before her birthday she received -- thanks to friends who contacted Penn State athletics -- a framed photo of Joe Paterno with a note to her. It was signed by Paterno.

As soon as this was opened it became the biggest thing to hit the Harrisburg nursing home in weeks. People came to the room to see it, and she smiled widely while showing everyone.

When I got there the discussion turned to where to hang it, and it was clear she had spent the afternoon looking at places. She was in a wheelchair, but she didn't miss a beat.

"Hang it there," she said, on the wall facing her.

I left and knew she was happy. I really appreciated what Paterno had done.

Everything seemed fine until I got a call in the morning. "Your mother needs you," the staffer said. "Her Paterno picture is gone."

I got there to tears, the wall spot was vacant. What happened to the picture?

I talked to the supevisors and shared my thoughts. They soon talked to her roommate and found the picture, under her mattress. She had taken it down overnight and hid it.

She was moved out of the room that day and in a few days my mother was joined by a wonderful roommate, who loved Penn State like her and brought us new friend. The picture was safe. And it was so special.

I now have it, as a lasting memory. 

My second special Paterno memory occured in March 2004, I believe, in my third year as editor of the CDT. Shortly after I was hired we published some editorials about players in trouble and concerns, and that led us to meet with Paterno for a discussion. That had been the first time I'd met him.

But in 2004, I heard a voicemail from Paterno's secretary in my phone in Denver Airport, asking me to call the coach.

I first called the paper to see what we reported that day, then placed a call. I was put right in to Paterno.

"Bob," he said, "I just don't want you to think I'm always negative." I recall him saying that he and Sue were close readers of the local issues and he appreciated the coverage in the paper. He really didn't read sports, he said.

"We think you're doing a great job with the paper, and I wanted you to know that," he said, in comments I will never forget.

We talked for a few minutes and I told him I appreciated the call like he would never know.

The third lasting memory is the most recent, two years ago at Penn State. Paterno attended the College of Communications retirement ceremony for John Curley, who had been teaching at Penn State after years with Gannett, when he was the founding editor of USA Today and CEO of the company.

The John Curley Center for Sports Journalism is at Penn State, and it was great to see so many people on hand to recognize Curley, a great friend.

After the speeches I saw Paterno leaving and walked over to say hello. We chatted, and he said Curley was a great man and a great Penn Stater.

He was great for journalism too, I told Paterno. I could not agree more.

It was great to see Paterno that day, and these three memories are special to me. I share them on a tough time for Penn Staters everywhere.

-- Bob Heisse