In Memoriam: Dan Rooney—1932-2017
When I first moved to Pittsburgh 18 years ago, I was struck immediately by what a distinctive, almost unique community it was. And it wasn’t just the inimitable Pittsburgh landscape, with its rivers and hills and tightly built sloping neighborhoods. It wasn’t just the distinctive architecture and the unique Pittsburgh dialect. It was the character of the place.
Within weeks, I began to see a particular character to Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania: unpretentious, straightforward, humble, hardworking, and so very oriented to its own notion of strong community.
And then, of course, I became a Steelers fan. How could one not become a Steelers fan as one became a part of this community?
Eventually, I realized why almost everyone was passionate about the Steelers. Part of it, of course, is that they are winners. And part of it is that they have this great, appealing character: down-to-earth and swashbuckling at the same time. But another big part of it, I saw, was the Rooney family. Dan Rooney and Pat Rooney and Art Rooney Sr. and Art Rooney II all exemplify the Pittsburgh character.
And no one more than Dan. He brought a humble, caring approach to all his work. And, at the same time, he was spectacularly successful at building the Steelers franchise into the strongest organization in sports. He re-made the Steelers organization into a powerhouse; he became the leader among NFL owners; he picked league commissioners; he settled strikes; he set the standard for ethical management of a sports franchise; and he established the Rooney Rule, which advanced diversity within the league.
And, along with Pat and his family, he was a powerful community leader who helped Pittsburgh dig out of its economic malaise and re-emerge as a great city. Dan was an author, whose book “Allegheny City: A History of Pittsburgh’s North Side” sold 5,500 copies and counting in Pittsburgh and around the rest of the country. At age 77, when most people have retired, he began serving his country as ambassador to Ireland.
My wife Peggy and I got to know Dan and Pat, as did almost everyone in the community they helped build. Whenever we saw them they were perfectly Pittsburgh: charming, humble, always kind and considerate, and always interesting.
Dan was a true leader, who made the most compelling difference for his team, his sport, his community and his country. He lived the life of the proverbial “muscular Christian”—strong and accomplished, but always guided by his bedrock Christian values. Great accomplishment, and human kindness, were the things that defined him, and what Pittsburgh will remember most about Dan Rooney.