Like all of you, we are feeling very sad today, with a mix of anger. It is hard to imagine Franco dead. We know the time comes for all humans to one day die. But not today. Not 50 hours before Franco was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the greatest play in NFL history, and his jersey was to be retired by the Steelers! Not the week where the whole country was preparing to say “thank you” to a legend who always thought more highly of others than himself, who showed up consistently and in a big way on behalf of many who were forgotten.

Franco was coached to “play to the end.” And that he did. He played to the end on the field, and for nearly four decades off the field, the last 15 of which he shared with us, with our kids, and with the promise we made to Pittsburgh.

He loved our kids and our promise. He celebrated them in their successes, encouraged them in their struggles, and even danced with them in their joy. I have memories of Franco at our Senior Signing Day dancing with a large group of students to the beats provided by our DJ as they declared their plans and announced the colleges they will attend. At one such event, I was leading an all-city high school choir in a song during which Franco, having never heard that song before, joined us and started singing with us. He played to the end for our kids.

He loved our Board and served so faithfully on it. He did so when our praises were being sung, and when our necks were being wrung. He never thought the price was too high to do right by our mission. He played to the end for our mission.

He was so very pleased and proud that our Board members included two Promise alums, one of whom – Vanessa – was in our very first class of scholars. Franco was the commencement speaker at Vanessa’s graduation. At our December Board meeting we celebrated Vanessa’s 32nd birthday and Franco’s #32. He played to the end for our future.

He also cared about so many others, served in many unseen ways, and gave so very generously of every resource he had. I can name a dozen other missions with which he was engaged, and I am certain there are many more of which I was not aware. Just a month ago I was at an event with Dana and Franco to support children whose parents were incarcerated. He played to the end for them too.

In C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, Lewis writes about a conversation between Lucy and Aslan the lion. Lucy was a child in the first book and is now an adult in this book.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

I have said in the past that some legends get smaller the more you know them. But the more we knew Franco the bigger he got.

Rest in peace, dear brother. We will do our best to follow in your gigantic footsteps and play to the end.


-Executive Director Saleem Ghubril on behalf of The Pittsburgh Promise