I’m a Pittsburgh guy. I grew up in Ambridge, PA, just 15 miles from where the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers forms the Ohio River. Growing up there, I am a lifelong Pittsburgh Steeler fan.
Displaced Pittsburgh guys like me have a love affair with their hometown and its football team. A while back, a friend of mine sent me an article about Art Rooney, the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s gone now, but he is remembered fondly by the people in Pittsurgh.
The story happens in a funeral home. Kathleen Rooney, Art’s wife of over 50 years, had just passed away. A guy by the name of Dan Lackner, who worked in the Steelers’ office when he was in high school, went to pay his respects.
While he was there, he ran into another friend of his whose father, a retired Pittsburgh fireman, had just passed away. He paid his respects to his old friend’s father. There were no people or flowers in the old fireman’s visitation room. The son said that his dad had outlived all of his friends. He wasn’t surprised that very few people had come to pay their respects. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if it made any sense to have a viewing.
You have to understand that in Pittsburgh, everybody goes to viewings at funeral homes. When my grandmother passed away, I saw people whom I hadn’t seen since I graduated from high school 40 years ago. They read the obituaries and showed up. She spent the last 15 years of her life in Florida. Nevertheless, members of her church in Pittsburgh came to pray for her the night before her burial. So, in Pittsburgh, an empty visitation room with a casket and no mourners is an especially sad thing.
As the story goes, Art Rooney, who was in mourning for his wife, noticed Dan Lackner coming out of the other room. He asked who was there. Lackner told him the story. Mr. Rooney was a generous man. He immediately went to the room to pay his respects to a man he had never met.
As you might imagine, there was no shortage of flowers for Mrs. Rooney. Mr. Rooney began telling the delivery men to take them to the Lackner family’s room. They ended up with quite a collection of bouquets.
When the famous Steelers, Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, came to pay their respects to Mrs. Rooney, Art Rooney sent them to the other room to pay their respects to the fireman. He told them to be sure to sign the guest book. Pete Rozelle, the NFL Commissioner, was sent back to pay his respects, as were Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, and Pete Flaherty, the then-mayor of Pittsburgh.
The article ended with these words: “Everybody who was anybody in the National Football League had signed the fireman’s guest book. That’s just the way Art Rooney was. That visitor’s book might be worth something these days.”
That was the way Art Rooney was; a man who did things for others, even if they could do nothing for him. Interpersonally competent people do this. They are kind and generous. They know that generosity is the secret to relationship building.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”