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Jeff Byers: Loss of Loved Ones a Means for Personal Reflection

by on January 27, 2012 11:51 AM

Death has a way of bringing people together. In the last seven months, death has me thinking about life. It doesn’t matter when death occurs; it is almost always too soon for those who love and care about the deceased. It doesn’t matter the circumstances; it always seems unfair.

But from the deaths of three individuals, I am reminded how important life — and what we do with it — is.

Angelo Paterno told his son Joseph Vincent to make an impact and he certainly did. Anyone who watched the moving tribute at the Jordan Center on Thursday can attest to the impact he clearly made. Not everyone has the platform that Paterno did; not everyone has the ability to influence as many as Paterno did; not everyone could draw tens of thousands to commemorate a life well-lived. But we can all make an impact.

Pat Boland was a friend and a colleague and he made an impact. He died this past summer at the age of 42 from the same disease that took Paterno, lung cancer. Boland was a news and sportscaster and his life will be remembered for the impact he made on those of us who knew him.

He had a quirky and remarkable sense of humor that often was able to put tough situations, like the one Penn State has faced over recent months, in perspective.

He made an impact on the lives of many using similar traits as Paterno — loyalty (he remained at the same radio station for the entirety of his professional career, something almost as rare as a coach staying at the same school for the entirely of his career), work ethic (Pat was often both the first person in and the last person out at the radio station) and integrity (Pat had a very clear sense of what was right and what wasn’t and would not be deterred in pursuing the truth).

The days around his funeral were somber but special. We knew he made an impact and that was obvious by the number of folks who got together to remember him, to remember the time we all shared together.

Andrea Leonard was a long-time family friend. She was 10 days shy of her 58th birthday when cancer took her from us earlier this month. Like Joe Paterno, she was a New York native who found her home at Penn State. She worked in Development and Alumni Relations and in 2010 earned the Esprit de Corps Award for her dedication to her co-workers and commitment to the university.

She also volunteered with numerous organizations and also gave her time to individuals who were in need. She was truly selfless and kept herself busy cheering others up. As with Paterno, a lot of her good deeds were not known by a lot of people, but she knew the positive impact she was making. And like Paterno, she was a family person. She raised two beautiful daughters with her best friend and husband Rob.

Getting together with friends of hers was special because I didn’t know many of them, but I could see the impact she had. I wasn’t the only one she had gone out of her way to help make feel special.

These are just two people I know who recently lost their lives and made an impact — a big, positive impact on our community. I know there are so many others and it reminds me that we all have an obligation to come together in their memory and for their honor to make an impact ourselves.

At all three ceremonies to commemorate the lives of Pat Boland, Andrea Leonard and now Joe Paterno, people gathered to share stories and remember the good times. It is special to have the opportunity to reflect with family and friends on the joy that a life well-lived can bring, on the opportunities given to others and on the impact one person can have.

My life is better for having known Joe Paterno and all the good work he did. My life is better for having known Andrea Leonard and the time she spent helping me. My life is better for having known Pat Boland and the laughs and opportunities we shared together.

I also remember the many others that I miss in my life — my Aunt Diane, who helped me grow personally and professionally; my grandparents, each of whom helped guide me in varying ways toward becoming a better person who could pursue his passions; my Aunt Rachel, who reached out to me and inspired me to keep strong connections with her side of the family; my high school friend Brian Grove, whose integrity and sense of humor I think about often; and countless others.

They all made an impact. Regardless of the length of their lives, their influence was and still is felt.

Making an impact can take many different forms and can involve many different aspects, but we would all be wise to honor those who worked to make this a Happy Valley by remembering to make an impact. Whenever the time comes, there could be no better testament to a life well-lived than to have others say “he/she made an impact. Our lives are better because of having known him/her.”

We Are because all of us know somebody who was. May our lives have an impact — whether it’s on thousands or on a handful of individuals, make an impact. Life is too short to not take advantage of the opportunity we have to help each other. Joe, Pat, Andrea and your friends and family members who have left us would want it that way.

And to all of my friends and family who are still with me: I promise to remember to thank you for the impact you have had on my life. I appreciate it and hopefully we can spend some time making more great memories for those who will gather at our memorial services.

Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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