Fred Rogers is part of the childhood memories of many who came of age in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. His show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, was a staple on PBS and showed Rogers to be a gentle and warm figure.
On Friday, February 27, the 12-year anniversary of Rogers’ death, PBS posted a video message Rogers recorded for fans who had been reared with his image and were now adults.
In the video, Rogers describes how fans’ enduring love of the show has translated into personal affection for him. He concludes with a poignant message for those adults, who are now the caregivers of a new generation of children. The message is in the form of gratitude, not instruction.
“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”
That idea of “safety” was perhaps at the heart of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In 1993, Rogers described the show as a “humble, simple offering, ” as recounted by a PBS report on his passing in 2003.
“I think of the Neighborhood as a safe place where people have a chance to use whatever they have inside them to help them grow.”
Rogers was a Presbyterian minister and spent several decades as the host of children’s programs. He appeared in nearly 900 episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Judy Rubin, who worked with Rogers for many years and also knew him privately, told the News-Press earlier this month that Rogers was not a character created for the camera.
“What you saw on the screen is what you saw on real-life. He was authentic. He was genuine.”
Despite that truth, Rubin said Rogers had his moments of anger.
“He was a very loving person. But he could get angry. He could get upset. And if something wasn’t right, he would (have everybody) do it over again. He was a real human being. He could lose his temper just like everybody else.
“To him, everybody was unique and worthy of respect. You were special. He was being neighborly in a genuine way. That was his main message… It was a message of love.”
Fred Rogers died February 27, 2003 of stomach cancer.
[Fred Rogers photo courtesy of Getty images]