t;">It has been just over a week since the startling news of Fred Rogers’ sudden passing on Feb. 27, but the loss will long be felt. The tributes to the icon who revolutionized children’s television as the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood have been plentiful.
t;">Rare is the man who touched so many people in such a simple but poignant and lasting way. His calm and reassuring presence resonates with us still. He understood children like no one else on TV, not just as someone who was trained in child development and had the gentle demeanor of an ordained minister, but most fundamentally as someone who listened to and respected children.
Meeting Mr. Rogers
I feel privileged to have interviewed Fred Rogers a few years ago at the Pittsburgh TV station where he taped his shows. In person, he was exactly as you would expect him to be. He exuded a gentle calm and, of course, a big heart. He talked quietly and slowly, but candidly. He asked as many questions about me as I was able to ask of him. He was genuinely interested in my life, my family and my children.
t;">Whenever I redirected the focus back to him—I was supposed to be the one interviewing him, after all!—he responded with thoughtful insight and understanding. He talked fondly about his own family, his career and, most important, what all children need. (It hasn’t changed much since he began his TV career in the late 1950s, he said.) We were scheduled to speak for an hour, but we spent close to three hours talking.
t;">He gave me a tour of the Neighborhood. I held King Friday XIII. I sat inside the castle. I saw his sweaters and his sneakers. Then he graciously posed for photos, before finally asking if he could borrow the photographer’s camera so he could take a picture of us!
t;">When we were done, I self-consciously asked him to sign autographs for friends and colleagues who had begged me for them when they learned of my interview. Drawing from his stack of pictures, he methodically filled out unique inscriptions for each. When it came to doing one for me, he wrote: “With great appreciation for our grace-filled visit, Mister Rogers.”
On the day he died, I heard the news as I was about to head to the airport. It took a while to sink in. Watching TV as I waited for my flight, I was struck by how everyone stopped in their tracks when they heard the reports of his passing. I listened to their fond remembrances of watching Mister Rogers during their childhood, of how he reminded them of a special teacher they later had, or of the shared time they had spent in the Neighborhood with their own children. That night, the news reports were filled with tributes. Reporter after reporter who had interviewed the man each recalled in their own way experiences much like the one I had with him.
Fred Rogers spent his career not just entertaining and teaching, but supporting children—making them feel heard, understood, respected and safe. He did the same for parents. He reminded us what is most important in life: To listen, to appreciate and to have compassion for each other.
An Enduring Message
He encouraged us all, as parents in these troubling times, to reassure our children that we will do everything in our power to keep them safe, to support and protect them. He spoke of the need to learn how to deal with anger in appropriate ways, to slow down and to find moments of calm in our lives. I’m sure he meant this for all of us, not just children.
Fred Rogers has left an unmatched legacy in his impact on millions of children over the last four decades, as well as a rich archive of TV programs, videos, books and curricula that will continue to help children deal with life’s challenges. And, in today’s frenetic world of uncertainty and conflict, that’s a good thing. Mr. Rogers is needed more than ever. Bill Lindsay is Dominion Parenting Media's Editor in Chief.
Read Bill Lindsay's interview with Mr. Rogers.
Bill Lindsay is Dominion Parenting Media's Editor in Chief.