Last Thursday, Pittsburgh lost a native son. Dan Rooney, former chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers and United States Ambassador to Ireland, passed away at the age of 84.
Mr. Rooney was born in 1932, one year before his father, Art "The Chief" Rooney founded the Pittsburgh Pirates Football Club--or the first iteration of the Steelers. At five years old, he was already involved with the franchise working as a water boy, and he later met his wife, Patricia, in the office of the Steelers where she was working.
Much of the successes of the Steelers and that of the National Football League are due to Mr. Rooney's contributions. It was Mr. Rooney, the general manager, who selected Chuck Noll to lead the team from mediocrity in 1969 to a record four Super Bowl victories during the Steel Curtain Dynasty. It was Mr. Rooney, the former accounting major from Duquesne University, who crafted the modern unrestricted free agent system in 1992 that resulted in higher player salaries. And it was Mr. Rooney, the owner, who urged the NFL to create more opportunities for minorities to earn high-level coaching and administrative positions in what ultimately became known as the 'Rooney Rule'.
Mr. Rooney had a lifelong commitment to advancing the relationship between the American and Irish people. In 1976, he and former CEO of the H.J. Heinz Corporation, Anthony O'Reilly, founded the Ireland Fund, which promotes peace, culture, and charity. The nongovernmental organization has increased its world exposure, sprouting chapters in 12 other countries and has raised over $550 million since its inception. Mr. Rooney's nationalist relations with Ireland also made him an apt choice to serve as the US Ambassador to the country under President Barack Obama. From July 1st, 2009 to December 14th, 2012, Ambassador Rooney served his appointment, and to date, he is the only ambassador to have visited all 32 counties in Ireland.
Despite his world adventures and despite the level of prominence he elevated the Steelers franchise, Mr. Rooney always considered the North Side of Pittsburgh to be his home. He was an accessible man, walking to Pirates games and frequenting local spots in the neighborhood, like Gus & Yia Yia's storied icy ball stand or Legends, an Italian-style eatery next to Allegheny General Hospital. Tailgaters could mingle with the owner on game days as he traveled the five minutes down North Shore Drive from his house to Heinz Field in a black golf cart.
Dan Rooney is survived by his wife, Patricia, and their seven children. The eldest of them is Art Rooney II, the current owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His memory lives on in the hearts and minds of Steelers past and present as well as inside the people of Pittsburgh. Following his death, Obama recounted his friendship with Mr. Rooney saying, "he was a model citizen and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage...a championship-caliber good man."
A public viewing is being held for Dan Rooney later this afternoon at Heinz Field from 2pm to 7pm at the PNC Champions Club inside the stadium. On Tuesday, a funeral mass is scheduled to take place at Saint Paul Cathedral in Oakland.