STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno’s family said Monday the legendary football coach will get a two-day viewing and a public memorial this week on the Penn State campus, two months after the university summarily fired him over the phone.
The family gave no details on who might be invited or asked to speak at the memorial Thursday at the basketball arena, which can hold 16,000 people. Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the specifics were still being worked out with the Paternos.
But many alumni and students say Paterno was treated shabbily by the Board of Trustees in November, and trustees and other members of the administration might not be made to feel welcome at the memorial for the 85-year-old coach, who died Sunday of lung cancer.
“I don’t think it’s going to be heavily laden with administration and trustees,” said trustee Linda Strumpf, who lives in New York and will not attend. “This is something the family is putting together and not the university. I don’t think the university wants to be in a position to tell them what a memorial service looks like.”
But trustee Al Clemens said he will be there to honour a man he described as a good friend.
“This is really a family thing, and so we’re just going to go as individuals,” Clemens said. “Joe’s a great guy. No matter was the situation was in the last two months, it doesn’t take away from what he’s done through history for so many people. He’s just been tremendous.”
The viewing will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at a campus spiritual centre, followed by a private funeral Wednesday afternoon. The public memorial will be at the Jordan Center and is expected to draw thousands.
Michael Day, a 1973 Penn State graduate from Hagerstown, Md., whose father taught there and whose four children all have Penn State degrees, said the trustees were wrong to fire Paterno and he believes they will ultimately be replaced. He said he hopes they don’t attend.
“I think the Penn State community is separate from the Penn State Board of Trustees,” he said. “The Board of Trustees has separated itself from the Penn State community, and the Penn State community loves Joe Paterno and always will. So it’s appropriate for the Penn State community to honour Joe Paterno in this service.”
Paterno was fired Nov. 9 after he was criticized over his handling of child sex-abuse allegations levelled against former assistant Jerry Sandusky in 2002. Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner said that in not going to the police, Paterno may have met his legal duty but not his moral one.
Bitterness over Paterno’s removal has turned up in many forms, from online postings to a note placed next to Paterno’s statue at the football stadium blaming the trustees for his death. A newspaper headline that read “FIRED” was crossed out and made to read, “Killed by Trustees.” Lanny Davis, lawyer for the board, said threats have been made against the trustees.
Janice Hume, a journalism professor at the University of Georgia, said that staging an appropriate memorial creates a dilemma similar to the one faced by Paterno’s obituary writers: how to address the scandal without letting it negate his entire career.
“I think it’s probably very difficult to strike the right balance,” she said.
AP writers Kathy Matheson and Patrick Mairs in Philadelphia and Michael Rubinkam in Allentown contributed to this story.