R.I.P. Paul Mazza

By Chris Buchignani, March 10, 2013

The last few years have been particularly tough ones in the Nittany Valley. In addition to the obvious, we have watched a generation of community pillars slowly pass into memory, bidding a final farewell to the likes of  Bob Zimmerman, Bill Schreyer, Joe Paterno, Lloyd Huck and Jim McClure. Now our extended family has lost yet another patron: Paul Mazza Jr.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned of Mr. Mazza’s recent passing. I had the opportunity, the distinct pleasure in fact, to cross paths and collaborate with Paul on a few projects over the span of several years. I last spoke with him at our inaugural Winter Reception last December. Without fail, I found him to be thoughtful, gracious, quick-witted and enterprising – the very model of a “man of letters” as they once were known.

mazza1.jpgAs years passed into decades here in the Nittany Valley, the warmth and quiet dignity of Paul and his wife Maralyn emerged as steady constants that helped shape the culture and character of our community. In starting the South Hills School of Business and Technology, they tangibly impacted Central Pennsylvania and made it a better place to live and work. They also, however, touched and altered lives in a thousand small and often unseen ways. Paul began practicing law at a time when lawyers were among the most respected professionals, instead of the most reviled, and yet I’ve witnessed the degree to which he maintained the respect of both his colleagues and neighbors throughout his career. In November of 2011, with seemingly all the world turning its ire on Joe Paterno and so many “friends” turning their backs on him at home, the Mazzas sent Joe and Sue this brief, but touching letter that encapsulates their class.

In a StateCollege.com editorial published some months later, Jay Paterno wrote, “Having a Penn State degree doesn’t automatically make you a Penn Stater, and not having a Penn State degree doesn’t mean you can’t be a Penn Stater.” In my mind, he was writing about Paul Mazza, a graduate of Notre Dame (we could never see fully eye-to-eye on college football) and Harvard Law. With his talent and credentials, Paul could have gone anywhere. He chose to return here, to his home, and put down deep roots.

These last several months, I have often explained our organization’s purpose as, in part, to capture some of the essence of “the old Penn State.” When I describe this to people, I am always thinking of Paul Mazza; I will often state as much. He carried himself a certain way, thought and spoke in a distinctive fashion, that belied the manner of an entire generation (PSU alumni and not) who formed this community into what we know and love today, one whose time in the waking world is nearing an end. In part, it was my interactions with Paul Mazza, and my recognition of the need to preserve and share that special spirit he possessed, that inspired my eagerness to help found The Nittany Valley Society and serve on its board of directors.

In the wake of Paul’s passing, it would be easy to say that our Valley shall not see his like again. But I don’t want to believe that, and, I have to think, neither would Paul. Just as it charmed others before him – the Athertons and Paternos – who came to this place and stayed here, claiming it as their own and making it better, the Nittany Valley’s allure will draw potential inheritors of Paul’s legacy of service and influence. What we can and must do now in memorializing him is ensure that the example he gave us in life endures to inspire them.

The thoughts, prayers and sincere well wishes of the entire NVS board of directors are with Maralyn and the entire Mazza family during this sad time.