Fran Fisher Memorial Service

May 19, 2015

State College, PA

On behalf of my family I want to express our condolences to Jeff and Jerry and their families on their loss. Also I offer condolences on behalf of all who played or coached at Penn State; Penn State a Camelot magical in time and place that Fran Fisher helped to build. He was a constant presence at practices and a friend to players and coaches for generations.

 

Today a great voice has fallen silent; a voice, neither boastful nor loud but rather warm and proud; a beacon welcoming one and all.

 

That voice floated across the brightly colored leaves of ridges and valleys, cities and factories and farms on Pennsylvania autumn Saturdays. Game broadcasts became a shared experience, that voice bound people to each other and to this place. On fall Wednesday evenings that voice came to public television stations across this commonwealth and into Pennsylvania’s bordering states.

 

The Voice and person of Fran Fisher were vital parts of a campaign waged to build The Grand Experiment, founded on Success With Honor.

 

Fran Fisher was a tireless advocate for Penn State, advocacy born not because of money or notoriety but rather because of a deep love of this community and this University. That was his motivation, nothing more and nothing less. Fran’s nobility of purpose is all too rare now; it belongs to a better generation one whose lessons we who remain could certainly use.

 

For people of a certain age in this community we remember a time when a football game on television was the exception and not the norm. In those days Fran Fisher brought the action of Penn State football into the homes of fans including a house on McKee Street. Even when games were televised TRUE Penn Staters muted the TV and listened to Fran and partner George Paterno.

 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the team’s success soared. Fran Fisher’s voice was the spellbinding soundtrack of that success. His on-air poetry helped forge an enduring love between a fan base and a university.

 

Part of Fran’s allure was that it was always about the higher purpose—Penn State--it was never about him. Fran was an ambassador who traveled far and wide to spread the word about Penn State football. Fran and John Morris, Jim Tarman, Nelson Goldberg, Joe Paterno and others planted Penn State’s flag all over the mid-Atlantic. Their efforts built a national power and left every other eastern school behind us in popularity and fan loyalty.

 

Their work set the foundations upon which this university rose to ever greater heights. The cornerstones were set by men with a keen understanding of the mediums through which they could reach the largest numbers of people.

 

Radio and local television were the social media and ESPN of their times. Fran used them to promote the team and the university he loved—in the modern world of “Selfies” selflessness seems like a nostalgic concept. But I have to give Fran credit—no one in their late 80s or 90s was ever more attuned to Facebook than he was.

The show TV Quarterbacks was often the only way for fans to see footage of game action. But also each week Fran interviewed student-athletes from the team on the show.

 

Fran put them at ease allowing the clean-cut young men in suit and tie to speak about their experience at Penn State.  Fran’s showcase was living proof of what he was helping to build here and it meshed perfectly with the blue collar roots of the people of Pennsylvania.

 

From the small towns and cities the people in those homes were drawn to Happy Valley on autumn Saturdays. They came by cars and trucks and RVs and they filled the place because they could identify with the goals. They were drawn by the voice, by the stories he’d weave each week.

 

Forever when you see the stadium on the hill I hope you will realize what my father reminded me, and what I have always known to be true ; many visionary people helped to build it. The voice of Fran Fisher, the man he was and his advocacy for Penn State as the director of the Nittany Lion Club helped draw more and more people to the games.

 

But I would be remiss if I only talked about Fran as a broadcaster, as director of the Nittany Lion Club and as an advocate for Penn State.

 

In retirement Fran appointed himself  “Penn State’s sex symbol”. I reminded him that there wasn’t exactly a big talent pool vying for that honor. He replied “that may be so, but I still won.”

 

He possessed a charm highlighted by his self-deprecating sense of humor. He was charismatic defined; wherever he was people flocked to be around him.

The testament to that was the way so many people were drawn to help him in the last months of his life. A steady stream of people visited and brought him dinner—among them Jane Zimmerman, Louise Tarman, Sue Paterno, Lori Rose….All women… maybe he was a sex symbol.

 

My oldest son and my nephew went with my mother to bring dinner to Fran. Fran shared stories and some of his characteristic bad jokes.

When my son got back I asked how his evening was.

 

“Dad, Mr. Fisher is cool. He told some really funny jokes.” my son said.

 

“He told them some he probably shouldn’t have.” My mother said.

 

Be that as it may, that is how he was. Fran had tremendous recall of history and humor and was always ready to share it.

 

For years, Lou Prato and Mike Poorman had Friday lunch with Fran. On occasion I was lucky to be asked to be a guest and I always walked out of those lunches happier and smarter—and I’ll clue you in---it wasn’t because of Lou or Mike.

 

On radio, on TV or in person Fran Fisher had the same effect on everyone—you always walked away with a smile. What greater talent is there in this world?

 

Picture the Penn State fight song playing as the WPSX studio lights start to dim on Jim Tarman, Joe Paterno and Fran Fisher seated in three chairs while the credits rolled on TV Quarterbacks—I’ll bet you’re smiling.

Fran was also a selfless teammate—George Paterno loved working with him. They were so good together, and served as a lifeline while I lived elsewhere.

 

In 1994 my career took me to James Madison University. As night fell in Virginia Penn State trailed Illinois 21-0; the sun seemed to be setting on an undefeated season. Because our regional ABC game was Alabama-Mississippi State, we crowded around a radio listening to Fran and George on KDKA—but it was fading in and out.

 

My brother Scott and my father-in-law could not take it. They drove all over the mountains of Virginia stopping when they got a strong signal. When it faded they’d drive another hundred yards to get a better signal. They repeated the same thing for the entire fourth quarter. That was where they heard Fran yell “Yes Sir Never in doubt”.

 

So many Penn Staters have similar stories. At one of our Penn State Fantasy football camps an Air Force veteran told us how he used to lay on the floor of his barracks in Asia in the middle of the night listening to Fran and George call the games.

 

We all know where we were and who we were with when we heard Fran call the big plays in the biggest games.

 

While this may be an end to the mortal being of Fran Fisher, no one who knew him or those who sat mesmerized in their homes listening to him or watching him will ever forget him.

 

In the Penn State alma mater it says “Sing Our Love and Loyalty”—those two words Love and Loyalty were what Fran Fisher was all about. Fran’s voice was like Gabriel’s Horn calling all who love this university to Love Penn State and remain ever loyal.

 

While Fran’s voice may be gone, it echoes thunderously in Penn State hearts and minds across the same Pennsylvania ridges and valleys and across the globe. It makes us remember a great man in Fran Fisher keeping us connected to our history and a truth about the school that he lived for.  It will continue to echo and live on even now after he is gone.

 

It is the end of a mortal era. An era of men of character and vision who built this football program from scratch, from humble beginnings the right way—that is why many are here because a builder of the right way has passed. As the voice of Penn State and as  a member of Penn State Athletics Fran Fisher helped promote and yes, build a program that was committed to doing things the right way Academically, Athletically and Fiscally.  Let’s hope that the next up will do the same in a way that does justice to the legacy we celebrate today.

 

In the end we know that above all he was Charlotte’s husband, Jerry and Jeff’s father and a doting grandfather and great grandfather. We know he was a benevolent friend to one and all.

 

Now he goes to the place where great men go, he’s at the 15, the ten, the five and crossing the final goal line---I can hear his unmistakable voice yelling “No Flags, No Flags, No Flags”

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© 2014 Jay Paterno