Flowers from Easter services still adorned the altar at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland Tuesday, as nearly 2,000 mourners gathered to remember late Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.
A long-time philanthropist and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Rooney died Thursday at age 84.
Among the attendees were Rooney’s large family – he and his wife, Patricia, had nine children – current and former Steelers players, President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State of John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and the Irish ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson.
The service, presided over by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., was somber and prayerful. Wuerl remembered Rooney as a faithful Catholic who attended Mass daily, a devoted husband and father, a well-loved leader and “a quintessential Pittsburgher.”
But there were moments of levity and laughter, particularly during the reflection, delivered near the end of the service by Dan Rooney’s son, Art Rooney II.
He remembered how much his father loved his cell phone, and how much he hated to miss calls. For that reason, Dan Rooney always kept his ringer at the loudest volume possible.
Art Rooney II said during a trip the two took to New York City, he accompanied his father to Mass.
When his phone rang while in line for communion, Dan Rooney answered it, but then hung up quickly. Shocked, his son asked him about the call after the service.
Dan Rooney replied that he’d thought it might have been the commissioner of the NFL.
Wuerl drew laughter when he shared how Rooney would correct him when he called him “ambassador.”
“It’s Dan,” Rooney would say. Rooney served as ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012, and according to Wuerl , he was “fiercely proud” of his Irish heritage.
Wuerl called Rooney “a man of the people” and marveled at how the rank and file of the Steelers organization revered him and admired him.
“He was the best of us,” Wuerl said.
While the funeral took place inside the cathedral, dozens of Steelers fans lined barricades across the street and around the block.
Among them was Vernon Phillips, former director of athletics with Pittsburgh Public Schools.
He said he met Rooney several times in that role and would sometimes attend meetings at Heinz Field.
“He and his wife, on occasion, would be there and stop into meetings, say hello,” Phillips said. “'You need anything?’ That type of thing, they’re genuinely just good people. When you say ‘good people,’ that’s Mr. Rooney and his wife.”
University of Pittsburgh sophomore Hunter Stept stopped by between classes. Though he grew up in south Florida, his family is from Pittsburgh and Stept said he's been a lifelong Steelers fan.
“Dan Rooney has always just been the life of Pittsburgh,” he said. “Everyone knows his name, everyone respects him. I’ve never met him, but he embodies Pittsburgh.”
90.5 WESA's Christopher Ayers contributed to this story.