Paul Mazza died three years ago today, on March 9, 2013. I wanted to share something I wrote at the time, because I’ve been thinking about Paul lately, particularly on a recent visit to State College:
Paul will likely be most remembered for founding, along with his wife Maralyn, the South Hills School of Business and Technology. I’ll remember him as a friend, a gentleman, and though it would probably make him laugh, a mentor.
It was in 2009, I think, when I first met Paul and Maralyn Mazza. They’re the sort of figures that have a spark about them that seems no less impressive when apart. After meeting them—after seeing first-hand the presence and reality that the fuzzy concept marriage has—you can’t help but first wonder Where did they come from? and perhaps later even Can I get a bit of what they’ve got? But words in moments like this are paltry. So instead I’ll share a specific memory.
It was in December that I most recently saw Paul and his wife. They both attended The Willow Gathering, an occasion for a few dozen students, townspeople, professors, and others to get together and share a love for the Penn State and State College communities. The Mazzas are probably the best known couple in the Nittany Valley other than the Paternos, so this really was an honor. An established couple in their eighth decade didn’t have to come out on a cold December afternoon. But they did, and they brought a warmth, humor, and attentiveness that helped define the day.
In visiting the Mazzas a few days later for what turned out to be a long and memorable evening, both Paul and Maralyn sat with us for hours in conversation. What was the state of the world as we saw it? What were we doing with ourselves? Where were we finding difficulty? What’s fun? A friend of mine jokes, “Any gathering of two or more older people ends up becoming an organ recital—what’s wrong with whose body and how often.” Even if true for most elderly, there couldn’t be a less fitting way to describe Paul (or Maralyn) Mazza.
That night Paul turned in a bit earlier than Maralyn, as he was getting ready for another trip to Italy, and had to get packing. On getting up from the table, he saw I had a copy of a book I was editing. It was a very early proof copy of The Legends of the Nittany Valley. “How much for this?” Paul asks as he fingered through the paperback.
“Oh, that’s just an early rough copy. It’s not worth anything,” I reply. “Well, I’d like to have this copy,” insists Paul with his steady, slight grin. What could I say? Paul and Maralyn Mazza became the first owners of the first physical, albeit rough, copy of the book.
As it turned out, this would be the last time I’d see Paul Mazza.
At the time, I discounted this incident in my mind. It was simply a courtesy. Indeed, in describing the conversation it sounds like nothing. But, so often, those moments that matter most in one’s life end up being described as exactly that—as nothing. A great kindness or favor reduced to, “Oh, it’s nothing. Think nothing of it.”
And so I’ll cherish this moment with Paul for precisely this reason; because for Paul Mazza, those sorts of courtesies that imply a much deeper reservoir of feeling were nothing special—that is, they were ordinary. Paul Mazza, I think, hasn’t come to be so widely respected as the epitome of a gentleman because he sought to be a gentleman, but because he sought to be good to others whenever the chance arose.
It wasn’t a conscious action, or an act. For Paul, that was life. It was nothing.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t something to me.
A remembrance from Martin Bigsby on the Centre Daily Times obituary also struck me for its metaphor: “The lasting image I have of Paul is from part of a story he once told me in passing. He mentioned that he and his dad were among the townspeople who cleared the rocks and built Community Field – I believe it was a WPA project, if memory serves. That’s the image I get of Paul – lugging rocks and toiling to make our town better. I am so sad Paul is gone. We need more like him. We lost one of the finest, most community minded, high quality people.”
During the dark days of November 2011 in the Nittany Valley when all Penn Staters shed tears, Paul and Maralyn penned a public letter, “Chin Up, Shoulders Back” to their friends Joe and Sue Paterno. Ben Novak read their letter on November 10, 2011 on The LION 90.7fm:
In their letter, they describe the many years of Paterno contributions to the good of the community. I believe Paul and Maralyn’s words describe their own life together as much as their friends the Paternos. I adapt Paul and Maralyn’s words as an epitaph for Paul himself:
“When we look back over the years, we do not see a mountain of Mazza kindnesses and accomplishments. We see entire mountain ranges of Mazza kindnesses and accomplishments.
Requiescat in pace, Paul. I hope to see you again one day.