UNIVERSITY PARK - Jay Paterno came to the podium at the packed Bryce Jordan Center to a standing ovation at 4 p.m. Thursday, batting last after a two-hour lineup of heavyweight speakers to eulogize his father, and immediately said, "On behalf of my mother and our entire family, we want to thank everyone for prayers, notes, support and the outpouring of emotion from the Penn State community."
He emphasized the word "everyone."
And so it was that the healing process is now beginning.
Following the horrendous end to a Hall of Fame career and sudden death from lung cancer less than three months later, his family - like Joe Paterno himself - showed its leadership by welcoming all who wished to help say goodbye to a man who impacted a single university more than any person in American history.
In his invocation, Father Matthew Laffey thanked God for "one of your greatest gifts to the world," and expressed thanks "for the blessing to have lived where this giant walked the earth."
The entire building rose numerous times throughout the moving day - starting when Sue Paterno, dressed in blue, led her five children and 17 grandchildren into their seats shortly before 2 p.m.
"Family provides comfort," Charlie Pittman, representing the 1960s, said. "Family outlives controversy."
Paterno's career certainty ended in controversy after he was fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Several speakers touched on the Board of Trustees' Nov. 9 decision, much to the crowd's approval, and none more pointedly than Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight, who said the "villain" in the case "is not Joe Paterno." (Please see related story.)
While the board's decision made for an ugly ending, the three-day celebration of Paterno's incredible life could not have been more beautiful.
Starting with the 10-hour visitation at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Tuesday followed by Wednesday's funeral and capped by Thursday's perfectly scripted mix of speakers and video tributes, Happy Valley finally feels a little better this morning.
Sue Paterno was repeatedly fondly acknowledged for sharing her husband with the Nittany Nation, and Susan Welch, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, for which the Paternos have endowed scholarships, thanked SuePa "for letting the community mourn with you."
The family could have chosen a more private setting all week long, and after the way the university pulled the plug, the Paternos couldn't have been blamed.
But as the blue bus following the blue hearse on Wednesday went past the Paterno Library and the Creamery that sold Peachy Paterno and then toward Beaver Stadium, which was expanded seven times under JoePa's watch, and past the Paterno stature and downtown, where the five-deep crowds swelled even more, it was obvious this was a family that arrived Thursday with love and forgiveness in their hearts.
The Paternos allowed photography during the visitation, and Jay Paterno even offered to host the media for a Thursday night gathering.
After the family announced that Paterno had lung cancer on Nov. 18, Jay Paterno saw his father daily, and saw him increasingly more as the end drew near.
He took a walk with him in on a recent cold day at Sunset Park, next to the family home, and watched his father's shadow, comparing it with his own. He said his dad was tired but not bitter.
JoePa's 85th birthday came on Dec. 21, and knowing the possibility that it might be his last, his father's message to his entire family "stressed how blessed his life has been."
Paterno knew he was sick, very sick, but, Jay said, "He wanted to use his remaining time on earth to see Penn State continue to thrive."
Thursday saw Penn State thriving again as the ceremony was extremely dignified - bringing laughs, tears, passion and togetherness - and was easily as memorable as any game anyone had witnessed in much better times across the street.
The last act was reserved for Blue Band member Kurtis Cleckner, who delivered the trumpet solo, "Hail to the Lion."
Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.