Obama reaches out to Paterno family

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Jay Paterno, then the Penn State quarterbacks coach, worked for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign before the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania in 2008. Paterno helped organize a campus rally and introduced Obama to a big crowd on the sloping lawn in front of Old Main, the university administration building. Obama lost the primary to Sen. Hilary Clinton but won Centre County.

Nearly a year ago, on Feb. 2, 2011, President Obama came to Penn State and met Jay’s parents, Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno and his wife Sue.

On Monday, the day after Joe Paterno succumbed to cancer, President Obama called Jay and Sue Paterno to offer his condolences.

“Jay, I wanted to call,” Obama said, according to notes that Jay took. “Both Michelle and I wanted to offer our condolences to you and your family.

“Mrs. Paterno, your husband was beloved by so many and he will be missed.

“You both worked so hard to build a great institution.

“I was honored to have a chance to spend some time with him last year.”

The White House characterized the call as follows:

“Earlier today, President Obama spoke with the late Joe Paterno’s wife, Sue, and son, Jay, to offer his condolences for their family’s loss. During their conversation, the President recalled fond memories of when he first met Coach Paterno and said that he and Michelle would keep the Paterno family in their prayers during this difficult time.”

In an election year, it’s tempting to view everything through a political lens. But before you try to figure out whether the White House decided that Paterno is still a beloved figure in Pennsylvania, it’s a safer bet that Obama has a relationship with the family and reached out to friends in mourning.