Nearly three months after leaving office, former President Barack Obama made his first public appearance Tuesday at the funeral of Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and longtime Obama ally.
The 44th president did not make any remarks at the ceremony, held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. After Rooney died Thursday, Obama released a statement lauding the “championship-caliber good man.” Rooney served as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland during the Obama years.
“Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage,” Obama said. “I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland thank fondly of him today. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the Rooney family — some of the most gracious and thoughtful people we know — even as we celebrate the life of Dan Rooney, a championship-caliber good man.”
Obama attended with his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama. Also expected to attend were former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden; former Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Former President Obama, former Atty Gen Holder, Rooney family, Franco Harris, Mel Blount prior to the funeral for Steelers owner Dan Rooney pic.twitter.com/rqgj1HwE2A
— PGVisuals (@PGVisuals) April 18, 2017
Rooney was a lifelong Republican and was firmly opposed abortion rights before publicly and ardently supporting Obama’s candidacy in 2008. In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report from that year, Rooney’s son recalled his father’s reaction to watching Obama’s speech after the then U.S. senator won the Iowa caucuses, the first contest of the primary campaign.
“This is the greatest speech I’ve seen since John Kennedy,” Rooney told his son, according to the account. “This guy connects with people like no one I’ve seen since John Kennedy. He convinced me that this is more than just a good politician. I want to stand up and say something for this guy. I want to be involved in this.”
After meeting Obama at a campaign stop, Rooney announced his support. At a rally shortly before the November 2008 election, Rooney presented Obama with a Steelers jersey, drawing some criticism from the franchise’s fans. As president, Obama appointed Rooney to be the ambassador to Ireland, and he became the first ambassador to visit all 32 counties there before resigning in 2012.
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