STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Stunned by the rapid advance of his lung cancer and still reeling from the child-sex scandal that rocked the campus, Penn State students, professors and alumni mourned Joe Paterno on Sunday and expressed hope that he would be remembered more for the good he did than for his downfall.
"Longtime Penn State fans like myself always thought this day would come, but by no means did we think it would be through these circumstances," said Steve Wrath, a 1984 graduate who choked up as he spoke in front of Paterno's statue outside the football stadium. Its base was decorated with scores of lit candles, flowers, T-shirts and blue-and-white pom-poms.
"It's certainly sad. Joe has done so much for this university, community and the state of Pennsylvania," he said, adding that the former football coach's decades of leadership, integrity and public service would help counteract any tarnish caused by the arrest of one-time trusted assistant Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky was arrested in November and faces charges he sexually abused 10 boys over a 15-year span, sometimes in the football building on the Penn State campus.
Paterno, who died at 85, was fired Nov. 9 by the Penn State trustees for not going to the police in 2002 when he was told that Sandusky had been seen molesting a boy inside the football complex. Pennsylvania's state police commissioner said Paterno may have met his legal duty but failed to execute his moral responsibility.
"The Sandusky situation is obviously horrible for the victims, and I don't want to little that situation, but Joe Paterno's legacy will overcome all of that," Wrath said.
Gov. Tom Corbett, who oversaw the Sandusky investigation as attorney general, said in statement that Paterno had secured a spot in the state's history. "As both man and coach, Joe Paterno confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance," Corbett said.
Andrea Mastro, an immunology professor who lives in the same neighborhood where Paterno lived and raised a family — his address was in the phone book — said the rapidity of the cancer and the shadow of the Sandusky investigation made "the whole situation very sad."
"I can't help but thinking that his death is somehow related" to the stress of the scandal, she said after Mass on Sunday at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, where Paterno sometimes attended services. "I think everybody is going to be extremely sad, and they're going to be sad in particular because he didn't get his say."
Jo Dumas, a senior lecturer at Penn State, was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Coach Paterno, only one thing: Thank you." She teared up as she learned after a campus church service that Paterno had died.
"I'm wearing this very much on purpose," she said of her shirt. "We love him. He's part of our family. He's part of this community, and we love what he's done for the university."
Others at Our Lady of Victory expressed shock and sadness at the news.
"He's left actually an incredible legacy not only for the Penn State program but for the community as well," said Tom Kleban, 44, a research analyst who lives in State College. "You can't say enough about him. You really can't."
Penn State alumna Jan McKenna said her father, who deeply admired the coach, would be devastated.
"I just never thought this was going to happen this soon," said McKenna, a registered nurse in State College. "I feel very bad."
John Holtz, 77, a retired manager for a steel company and a resident of Boalsburg, said that Penn State's trustees acted too rashly when they fired Paterno as coach, and that he should have been put on leave until all the facts were out.
Paterno's firing has been met with some strong opposition by former players and other alumni, and was a major topic of meetings with former students in recent weeks by President Rodney Erickson.
Grier Yartz, 40, a businessman man from State College, said Paterno would be remembered for the good he did for the school, both academically and in athletics.
"We're very sad it ended this way," Yartz said.
AP freelancer Emily Kaplan in State College contributed to this story.