Fans of the iconic PBS children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and of its host, Fred Rogers, are learning a lot more about both thanks to the new documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Now we’re also getting to know Mrs. Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife of more than 50 years.
The charming 90-year-old made her debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday night, June 12, sharing sweet stories with the talk show host, leaving both the audience and Fallon in awe.
The short, white-haired Mrs. Rogers was upbeat as she lovingly and eloquently talked about her husband, who passed away in 2003 from stomach cancer at the age of 74.
But first she had to tell Fallon how much she loves him.
“I’m so happy to be here. You know this kid grew up with the program,” Mrs. Rogers said to the NBC studio audience, which you can watch via the clip below from Fallon’s Twitter page.
“Jimmy, I would not have come from Pittsburgh to [New York City] for anybody besides you,” she told the Tonight Show host, making him blush. “It’s just wonderful to be here. I adore you.”
The feeling, of course, was mutual. “I was a neighbor,” Fallon admitted, saying Mr. Rogers was “such a kind and compassionate guy.” The pop culture expert then dived right into the questions that have been on his mind for a long time.
Mrs. Rogers then discussed her husband’s obsession with the number “143.” For starters, he weighed 143 pounds all of his adult life, keeping himself trim by swimming every day. But the main significance of that number was what it stood for: 1 for the word I, 4 for l-o-v-e, and 3 for y-o-u — “I love you,” a nod to his cherished wife.
Joanne and Fred met at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. “He was different,” she said with a laugh.
“In his young days, he was lively and for fun. But he talked about his feelings, and I could talk about my feelings to him, and the things that bothered us, the things that we loved. You can’t build a friendship without doing that, and don’t you have to have a friendship to fall back on through your married life, and we had it for 50 years. That was nice.”
The Presbyterian Church-ordained evangelist always wanted to work with children, according to his wife, and was praised for speaking to them on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood about adult topics such as divorce, war, death, assassination, racism, and kindness in a manner they could understand, reported TooFab. (The couple have two children of their own, James, 58, and John, 56.)
The Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is in select theaters now and will continue to open across the country over the next few weeks. Visit the film’s official website for more information.