STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Joe Paterno was upbeat and confident in his final days and didn't die broken-hearted over his firing in November as Penn State's longtime football coach, his son said Monday.
Scott Paterno said his Dad was "serenely calm," before his death from lung cancer on Sunday, antsy to leave the hospital so he could start planning a vacation with his wife, Sue.
Paterno was abruptly dismissed after 46 years amid a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant coach.
During a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Scott Paterno said his father's health had deteriorated by Friday afternoon, prompting the family to announce Saturday that the 85-year-old Paterno was in serious condition. He died the following morning.
"He wanted his family in his room. He wanted to be around people. He wanted to talk," the son said. "He wanted to have people, even when he had trouble speaking, he wanted people around him talking. How are your kids? It was so natural. It was like we were having dinner around the kitchen table. It just happened to be his hospital bed."
And, he said: "Even at the end when it was clear that he passed a line of no return, it was never a moment of bitterness. It was never a moment of fear. He was serenely calm, even right up to the end."
The Paternos would have been married six decades this year. Along with their five children, Sue Paterno was at her husband's bedside at Mount Nittany Medical Center when he died.
"If there's any message I think my father would pass on to everybody at this point, it's 'let's build this thing up.' He was so positive and so confident at the end of his life that the things that were important about this place would endure.
"And that's why he was at peace," Scott Paterno said, before joking, "That, and (that) my mother was willing to put up with him all these years."
The Paternos' plans for a long promised six-week honeymoon trip were snatched away by the disease that took his life.
The actual honeymoon? A three-day trip to Virginia Beach — with a stop to see a recruit on the way down.
Paterno re-entered the hospital on Jan. 13, with his family fully expecting him to return home despite his increased frailty.
They thought it was simply a matter of getting him stabilized.
As recently as last Wednesday, Paterno was counting on his fingers the number of days he had been in the hospital, hoping to get out.
"One, two, three, four, five. I've been here five days. I'm coming home," his son quoted his Dad as saying.
Though the old coach was on a respirator that made it difficult to talk, it didn't stop him from teasing Scott on Thursday about his weight. Again. Dad playfully pointed to his son's belly.
"He did that every time," Scott Paterno said.
There were no balloons or flowers in Paterno's room. His son suspects his mother sent them to other patients in the hospital.
But there was a Penn State sweat shirt in there.
"His life is Penn State through and through," Scott Paterno said, speaking of his father in the present tense. "He understood that and it never once occurred to him to be bitter toward Penn State."