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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Dan & Henry: 2 real 'Burgh guys

| Saturday, April 22, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Dan Rooney
Tribune Review
Dan Rooney
Henry L. Hillman, Pittsburgh businessman and philanthropist, 1918-2017.
Henry L. Hillman, Pittsburgh businessman and philanthropist, 1918-2017.

Last week, as we celebrated the lives of Dan Rooney and Henry Hillman, we also celebrated the greatness of Pittsburgh.

It is a tale of two men and their city.

Art Rooney Sr., Dan's father and the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was an accomplished boxer, a minor-league baseball player and a semi-pro football player, who went on to build a professional sports empire.

John Hartwell Hillman, Henry's father, built a business empire in coke, steel, chemicals, coal, banking and real estate, becoming one of the great industrial barons of the 20th century.

Dan and Henry could have stopped there, because that was plenty for any family, but they never quit this town.

They stayed, worked hard, raised their families here and gave as much to the city as it had given them.

They were kings of this city, but nobody would have guessed that.

They both listened more than they talked, because great ideas could come from anyone, not just the swells. And even though they were usually the smartest guys in the room, neither of them thought that or acted like it.

Dan will be remembered for his common touch.

He walked his neighborhood, had a kind word for everyone and naturally took his place at the end of the Steelers cafeteria line, because that's what you do.

Dan was a co-founder of the American Ireland Fund, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to support education, culture, economic development and peace in Ireland, where he once served as the American ambassador.

Dan fought for civil rights, in football and politics.

Henry could easily find reason to laugh at his own expense. When chided for avoiding the spotlight, a practice for which he was renowned, he frequently and famously said, “A whale is harpooned only when it spouts.”

At those uncommon public appearances — ribbon cuttings or dedications — photos show a man bursting with good humor, open and approachable, a good neighbor.

He was that most rare combination: a billionaire and a regular guy.

Henry transformed the Hillman Co., and much of the city along with it. From education to medicine and high-tech startups, there is not one aspect of Pittsburgh that has not been improved, socially or economically, by his generous spirit.

As the city needed to change, Henry led the way.

When Big Steel collapsed in the 1980s, it would have been easy to give up on Pittsburgh.

But Dan and Henry never did.

Dan and his Steelers reminded us that we would always be champions. And Henry redoubled his efforts to keep us afloat.

Some would have us believe that the city was on the mat back then, and that's not true.

We might have been on the ropes, but Dan and Henry would have never let us go down.

There is a lot of talk these days about what it means to be a real Pittsburgher.

The truth is, we know it when we see it. Dan Rooney and Henry Hillman had it.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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