"Sue," began Kenny Jackson, a former receiver and coach, recalling how when he came on a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania State University, she promised two things to his mother: Her son would go to class. And he would get a quality education.
"I thank you, Sue - you never let me down," Jackson said. "You always made sure that education was the first priority."
Sue Paterno has been largely out of sight during the last several days, rarely glimpsed on what has been nearly constant broadcast coverage of her husband's death, and life. And how her life will change is unclear. But on Thursday at the basketball arena, she emerged looking strong, able to laugh at the humorous stories, dabbing her eyes with a tissue when the words turned to loss.
The 21/2-hour service culminated three days of mourning and allowed the larger Penn State community to say a last goodbye to the football coach. Paterno died Sunday at 85, his image compromised by his dismissal amid suggestions that he had failed to respond forcefully to child sex-abuse allegations against a former assistant coach.
"She was much more than a coach's wife," said Joe Battista, the associate athletic director for ice hockey, who worked with Sue Paterno in selecting student ambassadors, the young people who represent the university to potential freshmen. "It's amazing, the internal strength to have dealt with this."
On campus, on the walkway beside the bronze likeness of her husband at Beaver Stadium, and at Thursday's memorial service, people who know Sue Paterno talked about a sustaining inner drive, tirelessness, and faith.
Her son Jay told thousands at the memorial that when President Obama phoned to offer his condolences, he told Sue Paterno that she and her husband had done enormous and valuable work for the university.
"We plan to keep on going," she told the president.
In fact, her role and influence at Penn State has stretched far beyond the football field.
She served as academic tutor to players, a ready ear for parents, a down-to-earth greeter of potential donors, and a top fund-raiser in her own right. The library bears not just her husband's name but her own. So does the Sue Paterno Catholic Center. The couple helped fund the construction of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, where the coach's viewing and funeral service was held.
She is known for her work in the Special Olympics, the Thon dance marathon to fight childhood cancers, and women's causes and clubs.
"A lot of these buildings around here got built because of Sue Paterno," said Tom Bradley, the former interim coach and defensive coordinator, who led the team after Paterno was fired.
Suzanne Pohland of Latrobe met her future husband at the library during her freshman year, according to official biographies. That meeting was the love-story backdrop to their library donation. They married when she graduated in 1962 - she was 13 years younger than her husband - and raised five children, all of whom graduated from Penn State.
Sue Paterno has always been his partner, people here said, but in the days after Paterno's dismissal, she became his protector. After the board of trustees fired the coach with a phone call, Sue Paterno called back.
"After 61 years, he deserved better," she told John Surma, the board vice president.
Lorri Wildi, president of the Pittsburgh alumni club, the Alle-Kiski Society, said that whenever the alumni needed help, Sue Paterno was there.
"Dignity, grace, and style," Wildi said. She recalled Sue Paterno chasing after grandchildren at football games while at the same time playing host to recruits and former students, and somehow making it look easy.
On Thursday, when her image appeared on the overhead JumboTron, it sparked an ovation that rolled on and on. When she realized, she tried to wave off the camera, not wanting to be a focus.
Her husband had offered his opinion in a 2009 interview with the Associated Press.
"I've said many times that they won't have any problems replacing me," Paterno said then, "but if they can find a coach's wife like Sue, they'll hit the jackpot."
For videos, photo galleries, and complete coverage of Joe Paterno's life and death, visit www.philly.com/paterno
Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, email@example.com, or @JeffGammage on Twitter.