He was a man that never raised his voiced. He was never hurried, never harried, and never so busy that he couldn’t drop by the neighborhood for a half hour on PBS. Fred Rogers was the single most gentle TV personality that has ever graced (or will grace) the screen.
Mr. Rogers. And Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Just saying the name is relaxing. I think of that little town with the little cars in the opening (and closing) sequence we followed up to the house. Then Mr. Rogers would come through the door, take off his coat and put on a sweater (every one of which was knitted by his mother). Then he’d sit on that bench, and replace his shoes with some slipper/sneakers, all the while singing the famous “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?“ ditty we all know by heart.
An ordained Presbyterian minister, there was no “fire and brimstone” in the man. He loved everyone. There have always been rumors (completely untrue) that Fred was a highly-decorated sniper in the Vietnam War and wore long sleeves to hide the tattoos. But Rogers killed nothing but bad feelings and had no time for painting his body as he was too busy helping millions and millions of children draw on the canvases of their little minds.
Rogers was a strict vegetarian, a dietary decision that likely had to with his demeanor. He worked fiendishly (the only time that word is appropriate for the man) to keep his weight at 143 pounds…why? Because each number represented the number of letters in “I Love You”…1-4-3. My weight doesn’t spell “I Love You”, but it does spell “It…”…well, never mind.
And Mr. Rogers was loved as much as he loved. The story is told of Rogers’ car (an old Chevy Impala or Caprice) that was stolen while parked at the TV station. When the police report was filed, every TV and newspaper ran the story. Forty-eight hours later, the car was back with a note that read, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”
And then the show’s 30 minutes was done, and Mr. Rogers, who had not stopped smiling the entire time, would remind us that it was a good feeling to know we were alive, and that he’d be back when the day was new, and he’d have more ideas for you, and you’d have things to talk about.
Fred Rogers, born on March 20, 1928. A man who largely hated television, but got into television to do something different…something better, for children. And when thieves return a stolen car with a written apology, I’m guessing that he was successful.
Happy Birthday, Fred Rogers!!