Joseph Sabino Mistick: Biden evokes kinder days at Rooney symposium
In normal times, Joe Biden's recent Dan Rooney symposium speech at Duquesne University would have been a routine affair. But these are not normal times.
Every day, the morning news shakes us with the latest political bombshell, some jarring tale of domestic or foreign strife. It might be images of children's lives upended as a father is deported. It could be the constant saber-rattling, military or economic, with our enemies and even our friends. Or breaking news about the slaughter of our children in school, yet again.
And nothing can be agreed upon. People have their own facts, their own preferred cable news outlet, never crossing over to see if there might be some merit to the other side of the story. Chaos is the order of every day.
So, when Biden took the stage in a packed ballroom the day before St. Patrick's Day, some in the crowd could not be blamed for anticipating a podium-pounding stem-winder, or even a bragging reference to Democrat Conor Lamb's victory in a special election days before.
But Biden took another path, never talking politics, calming those in the room who have come to expect rancor and antagonism. He spoke gently, as a dad, a husband and a friend, reminding us of a time when politicians could comfort us, as well as rally us to their battles.
Biden celebrated the life of the late Dan Rooney, former Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and U.S. ambassador to Ireland. He spoke of Rooney's role in 1976 as founder of The Ireland Funds and his dedication to peace, culture and education.
He focused on Rooney's commitment to family, equality for all and his common touch. And he shared a story about the time when the Rooney family comforted his own.
In 1972, Biden's wife and daughter were killed and his two sons were critically injured in a car accident. Biden left the hospital once, to buy a Christmas tree for the boys. When he returned, he found them smiling for the first time since the accident.
Each was holding a football signed by the Steelers and sent by the late Art Rooney Sr. Biden said Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris “spent about an hour with my boys, cheered them up, gave them these footballs and got back on a plane and took off. No publicity.”
“That's all they did, but they did everything. It was the first glimmer of hope that I had,” he said.
After his speech, Biden lingered outside the student union with a small, quiet crowd. He talked softly with one or two folks at a time, never rushing. He put his hand on a few shoulders and touched a cheek or two with the back of his fingers.
As he was climbing into a black SUV, he lingered a moment longer. Everybody was smiling, and one voice in the crowd said, “See ya, Joe.” He nodded his head, smiled back at the crowd, and was gone.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).