In Memoriam - Fred Rogers
Fred Rogers, the man who taught, entertained and traveled to the Land of Make Believe with children of all ages for 50 years, has died at age 74 after a brief battle with stomach cancer.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a unique program for many of us who grew up watching it. Long after everything else had gone to a format of fast edits and multi-angle shoots, Fred Rogers insisted on keeping it simple. His was a one camera, slow paced operation until the very end and set the show apart from the rest. Rather than trying to mesmerize kids with flashy eye candy, Mister Rogers gave kids a safe place to rest. Instead of showing them a lot of things, he made you an active participant.
The pace of the show was only natural given the man in front of the camera. He was a soft spoken, gentle man who believed what he told you. He was not an entertainer - he was a friend. Paul Harvey said, "What was Mister Rogers like really? He was like... Mister Rogers. Really."
Perhaps the best thing about Mister Rogers was his commitment to making every child find the unique and special individual in each of them. In his interviews with guests, his puppetry and story telling, and especially his songs and books, he always made you feel like it was OK to be you. He told you that you were special. He told you that you could do it if you tried. He told you that it was OK to be scared sometimes. That means a lot to a kid - at least it did to me. (There's a great story on the songs page about a woman who used one of his songs as motivation while she was working on her Ph.D.)
His bio reads like a Who's Who entry, as well it should. It includes over 40 honorary degrees, Peabody awards, Emmys, the Television Hall of Fame and the highest civilian honor our country can bestow, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His cardigan also hangs in the Smithsonian.
But most of all, I need to say how much I enjoyed watching his show. I loved it as a kid. And I loved it even more when I got to watch it with my kids. Somehow, even when my kids were "too old" to watch it, it was somehow comforting to get a glimpse of it while channel surfing and know that he was still there. Even though he retired in 2000, the show has continued to be shown and is the longest running show on PBS. I hope it continues to be there for a long time.
Thank you, Fred Rogers. Thank you for making it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.