The first feature article that I ever wrote for Geekscape was 3 years ago when I wrote a eulogy to Jim Henson 20 years after his death. Jim Henson is one of the two most important figures in children’s television history. The other is obviously Fred “Mr.” Rogers.
10 years ago Fred Rogers died of Stomach Cancer. He was diagnosed in 2002, just one year after his retirement from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (a show he hosted for over 40 years). It was a sad day, not just for children’s programs, but for television in general.
It makes perfect sense that with his gentle, soft-spoken personality, Rogers originally studied to be a minister. Displeased of how children were being addressed, he instead set his sights to television, with a goal of changing everything. After years of public access Fred Rogers premiered Mister Roger’s Neighborhood in 1968 (A full year before Sesame Street hit the airwaves).
For the next 40 years Fred Rogers and his gentle, relaxing voice helped teach kids about growing up, how things worked, and the importance of love and friendship. He’d sing songs, take you on field trips and (as he once put it) ‘gave an expression of care each day to each child’. He will always be the shining example of how we can educate with love, a message that teachers around the world still believe in from growing up with his television series.
But Mr. Rogers was more than just a television personality, he is praised as the person who single-handedly helped PBS get its government funding in 1969. Essentially, without Mr. Rogers; there would have never been a Sesame Street. He did this simply by being himself (the same way he always was). While Rogers was occasionally mocked by the impatient Senator John Pastore who by the end of Fred’s speech said simply “that’s just wonderful. Looks like you just earned yourself twenty million dollars.” I recommend watching the video below, it will make your day a little bit brighter… in the simple kind of way Fred Rogers was gifted in doing.
He didn’t just stop with saving Public Broadcasting; Mr. Rogers is the reason you had a VCR and the reason that you currently own DVDs and Blu Rays. While television was doing everything in their power to stop the VCR from existing, Fred Rogers took the opposing side, stating that he believed that children who may not be able to watch his program when it aired could have it recorded for a later viewing.
It was less than a month before his 75th birthday when Fred Rogers died, on the morning of February 27th, 2003. At his public memorial, Teresa Heinz Kerry said of him “He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were”.
I will always remember that throughout the entire time I knew my grandfather, he always watched Mr. Rogers. I believe it was because as Teresa Heinz stated, he always invited you into conversation. I know for my grandfather, he loved when Mr. Rogers would take a field trip to show the viewers how things were made (as my grandfather had a small craft-shop in his basement).
While doing research for this article, I even discovered that Fred Rogers swam every morning, never drank, never smoked, and was a vegetarian. I was not shocked however to find out that all “military background internet rumors” are false. While there’s no proof of the legendary “stolen car rumor” being true or not (even snopes couldn’t determine it), I want to believe that it is. Fred Rogers was a great man who helped teach the importance of love. It’s been a long 10 years since his passing and children’s programing still doesn’t come close to what Mr. Rogers would have done if he was still on the air today. Next month he would have been 85.
I want to end this the same way Fred Rogers would always end his program;
“You’ve made each day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are”
Well put Mr. Rogers. I believe that the entire world felt that way towards you as well, and we’re never going to stop missing you.