Members of former Penn. State University football coach Joe Paterno's family church were grief-stricken when they learned about his death after Sunday mass.
At Catholic Campus Ministry church in University Park, Pa., an old couple, Charles and Jo Dumas, were wearing T-shirts that said "Coach Paterno, Only One Thing: Thank You." They were informed by the priest, Fr. David Griffin, after the mass that Paterno died of lung cancer at the age of 85 earlier Sunday.
Paterno, who held the record for the most victories by an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision football coach with 409 and is the only FBS coach to reach 400 victories, was admitted to hospital on Jan. 13. His family confirmed his death Sunday.
On hearing the news, Dumas, a 65-year-old professor of theatre, walked away to have a private moment, while his wife, also lecturer, began to sob, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, reported. "It's not only a great loss for us of a great benefactor and a great man," Dumas was quoted as saying. "…But our country lost. He showed us an example of what it is to be a coach and a teacher."
"And human being," Jo Dumas added.
"I'm sorry that we could not have had a better ending for this great man," Charles Dumas went on to say. "When Victor Hugo (French poet and novelist) died in Paris, everybody ran around the streets shouting, 'Hugo is dead! Hugo is dead! Our hero is dead!' That is the ending I would have liked to have seen for Joe Paterno, because he is our Victor Hugo."
The couple said they also have T-shirts that say "Stop the Sexual Abuse of Children" and that they alternate between them. "Because those are the two messages that are most important through this crisis," Jo Dumas said. "We all must be vigilant toward ending the sexual assault of children."
Paterno was fired last November, around the time he was diagnosed with lung cancer, because of a child-sex abuse scandal involving former Penn. State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. After Paterno was told about the abuse in 2002, he informed university officials but did not contact police, which he was criticized for.
Paterno, Jo Dumas added, wasn't the first person who didn't know what to do. "He did what any of us would do. He went to the people who had authority to do something about it." Her husband added that a person's life cannot be defined by a minute or an hour. "Your life is defined by the years of commitment and the work that you do. That's the way it should be with Joe."
Former Penn. Gov. Ed Rendell also paid tribute to Paterno. "He made a mistake, but I think Joe Paterno still lived an incredibly positive life. He goes down in my book as an incredible human being."