By Tim Hayes

The airwaves and news pages are awash with reminiscences and remembrances of Penn State’s late, great Joe Paterno.  But if you will kindly indulge me, here’s mine.

Nearly 20 years ago, as I labored in the Corporate Communications Department of a major company here in Pittsburgh, I found myself scurrying around the old Allegheny Club within the concrete confines of Three Rivers Stadium.  My employer, the signature sponsor of an annual high school football game pitting all-stars from Pennsylvania and Ohio, was putting on a lavish luncheon to kickoff (my apologies for the pun) that year’s event.

As one of the worker bees that day, I had a number of logistical details to take care of and could only take my seat once the festivities had actually begun.  Everyone else had been seated as the emcee strode to the microphone, and I quickly scrambled to the only seat left in the room.

Out of breath and finally able to relax, I turned to my right and nearly fell off the chair.  There he was, blinking at me from behind those trademark Coke-bottle glasses.  JoePa, in the flesh, extending his hand and saying hello.  To me.  And I thought I was out of breath before I sat down!

We chatted as the salad dressing made its way around the table, and in the course of conversation, I mentioned my father-in-law.  And then the dialogue really took off.  For you see, my father-in-law has been a Notre Dame fan since birth.  And I mean fan in the truest definition of the word – as in fanatic.  As a result, there are a great many other college teams he dislikes as much as he loves the Fighting Irish.

With Penn State damn near the top of that list.  A fact that I shared with Coach Paterno.  He smiled, Cheshire-like, and let a twinkle in his eye – magnified enormously through those thick spectacles – escape my way.

“Hand me a sheet of that notebook paper,” he instructed me.  I happily obliged.  What happened then has become legend in our family.

Joe Paterno, whose heart beat for his Nittany Lions for more than 50 years, took out a pen and wrote the following:

To Tom,


– Joe Paterno

That tattered sheet of paper still can be found, proudly mounted on the wall of my father-in-law’s house, all these years later. 

Every man has his flaws.  Every man has his virtues.  Grace, goodwill, and a healthy dose of humor and humility mark the best of us.  Rest in peace, Coach.

Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC