On March 20, 2021, Fred Rogers would have been 93 years old.
Sadly, he’s no longer with us. He died in 2003.
Fred Rogers is one of my desert island people. If I could sit for hours and soak in his wisdom, I’m confident that I would be a better person for it.
I freely admit that I didn’t appreciate Mr. Rogers’ simple brilliance during his popularity. His show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” would have been perfect for my young kids when it was first broadcasted, from 1968 to 1976. And for my grandkids when it was rebroadcast from 1979 through 2001. But we missed it.
I didn’t come to understand the importance of what Fred Rogers offered our children until recently when I watched the 2018 documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and then the moving 2019 movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which Tom Hanks played Fred Rogers, and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s” demographic was preschoolers. He focused on young children’s social and emotional needs rather than on cognitive learning. Fred Rogers wasn’t so interested in teaching school-readiness skills. He focused on the child’s developing psyche. He helped kids understand their feelings and develop a sense of moral and ethical reasoning.
The program was critically acclaimed for focusing on the emotional and physical concerns for kids; things such as death, sibling rivalry, school enrollment, and divorce. Rogers taught young children about civility, tolerance, sharing, and self-worth.
Fred Rogers was, indeed, the friendly neighbor our kids wanted to hang out with. He was someone they could trust. Someone who would spend time with them and teach them valuable life lessons. He was that sweet, non-threatening guy in a sweater and tennis shoes.
His presence was valuable, especially to those kids who were latchkey kids growing up in single-parent homes. So many kids survived a childhood with their only parent working hard, not having a lot of time for them. They could have used a Mr. Rogers as a childhood friend.
Behind the scenes, Fred Rogers was a fierce advocate for kids, but his advocacy was always delivered in the ultimate nice guy package.
In 1969, Rogers testified before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications, which was chaired by Democratic Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island. President Lyndon Johnson had proposed a $20 million bill for the creation of PBS before he left office, but his successor, Richard Nixon, wanted to cut the funding to $10 million.
Even though Rogers was not yet nationally known, he was chosen to testify because of his ability to make persuasive arguments and to connect emotionally with his audience. The clip of Rogers’ testimony, which was televised and has since been viewed by millions of people on the internet, helped to secure funding for PBS for many years afterward.
Rogers’ testimony was “considered one of the most powerful pieces of testimony ever offered before Congress, and one of the most powerful pieces of video presentation ever filmed.”
This is a small excerpt from the transcript of the senate hearing as Rogers explains his show:
“I give an expression of care every day, to each child. To help him realize he is unique. I end the program by saying—you’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you. If we can make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”
The Senate was overwhelmed and they gave PBS the full $20 million in funding.
I want to leave you with some of my favorite Mr. Rogers’ quotes:
“Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.”
“What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”
“We all have different gifts, so we all have different ways of saying to the world who we are.”
“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”
“To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Happy Birthday Mr. Rogers!