I remember my first day on the job like it was yesterday. It was a cold November morning in 1984 and the sun was shining. Recently graduated from college with a degree in Communications, I was about to embark on an unexpected journey serving in the Pittsburgh Steelers front office as secretary to the president, Mr. Dan Rooney.
The first order of business was a grand tour of Three Rivers Stadium. From the lobby with four Super Bowl trophies displayed, I was led through the long cement hallways past the coaches offices, equipment room, locker rooms, ticket office, and finally, outside into the massive stadium with more than 50,000 seats.
That’s where the magnitude of this day took hold and I walked back inside to the front offices filled with a deep sense of gratitude.
Mine was a large, oak desk with wall dividers just high enough for me to see above and a word processor that resembled a space craft – well almost. Located next to the president’s office, the business office, and a stocked kitchen, it was a high traffic area that would come to afford me the opportunity to meet people who had made their mark.
As the players, executives, and media passed by, I was realizing an important lesson. If I focused on their message and how they delivered it, I could learn what it takes to succeed, better than any college textbook.
Art Rooney, Sr. “The Chief” – The founder and owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers resembled my grandfather, which endeared him to me all the more. Every morning, as he and his son, Dan would arrive at the office – just having returned from morning Mass – The Chief did something that always caught my attention.
As he walked slowly through the doors, he made it a point to stop and talk to each person he came into contact with, starting with the visitors in the lobby. When it was my turn, he stood at the corner of my desk and would try to pronounce my last name. “Dreleeshok!,” he’d say. We always had a good laugh at the variations he came up with. The Chief taught me, by example, to walk with God into each new day. And he taught me to take time to let people, regardless of their position or place in the world, know that they matter.
Dan Rooney – One day, Mr. Rooney asked me to come in to his office to dictate his itinerary for a trip to Ireland. While I had taken shorthand in high school in preparation to be a secretary, that skill was long lost when I went to college instead with a different career path in mind.
There were a lot of places he was planning to visit and I was doing my best to keep up with where he’d be every day. As I sat across from his desk, notebook in hand, my pen could only move so fast and scribble was my only salvation. I hurried back to the word processor to type while his words were still fresh in my mind. I was doing good through the first half of the notes, but when I got to “Wednesday at 2:00 p.m”. the rest of the line was a blur. And from that blur, the destination appeared to be a visit to the “sacred cow”, so that’s what I typed.
I finished the itinerary, printed it and knocked on his door.
Handing it to him, I said, ‘Mr. Rooney, here you go,’ and I returned to my desk. Five minutes later, I hear laughter and then some more laughter. “Mary, please come in for a moment,” he said.
It turned out that it wasn’t a sacred cow he was visiting. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember the lesson he taught me that day. Kindness and a sense of humor are true leadership traits. And something he didn’t need to say – If there is any doubt about something, don’t be afraid to ask.
Dwayne Woodruff, cornerback – Steelers head coach, Chuck Noll, used to tell his players that their football playing days will end and that they should “prepare for their life’s work”. Dwayne took those words to heart and while juggling a professional playing career, attended the School of Law at Duquesne University where he earned a law degree. He taught me to persevere despite the obstacles and that the best game plan is one that leads to a rewarding and sustaining career.
Today, this Super Bowl winning MVP serves as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, PA.
After one year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, I knew that a burning desire I had to enter the field of public relations after college couldn’t end here. It was a calling that I still needed to answer since it would be my “life’s work”. So I moved forward in my career.
I took with me the life lessons learned in the Pittsburgh Steelers front office and the memories of the people who taught them.