It’s a Really Sad Day in the Neighborhood

One of my childhood heroes, Mister Rogers, has died. I loved him when I was a kid. I would sit in front of the TV and watch “Mister Mister” and sing along with the songs.

He’ll be missed. More than ever the world needs Mister Rogers. We are hurtling towards this stupid, selfish war against Iraq as fast as we can, and we need Mister Rogers to keep us in check.

He was a good guy. One of the greats.

Here’s something my friend Dave wrote which I think is really great:

As you may have heard this morning, Fred Rogers, host of
public television’s “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” died last
night at the age of 74.

“Mister Rogers” was one of the first programs that I can
remember watching. I was, of course, part of the show’s target
demographic back then. I can’t recall much from my preschool
years, but I do know that I loved the trolley, I loved the
neighborhood and I loved Fred Rogers.

Like many early loves, it faded with age and distance. I moved
on to programs intended for older kids: flashier, action-
oriented, violent in the ways that caregivers and watchdogs
lament and children adore. For the most part, I forgot about Fred
and his neighborhood, reminded only on occasion by the parodies
that proliferated in the ’80s as yesterday’s innocents grew into
sarcasm and despair.

Let’s face it, it was easy to mock Fred Rogers. He had a
simple style and a cadence that invited imitation. He stubbornly
retained old-fashioned production values in an era of hydraulic-
powered Muppets and computer-generated dinosaurs. Furthermore,
one could assign all sorts of hidden motivations to his soft-
spoken manner and his devotion to children. Comedians, fools and
cynics wondered aloud whether a beast lurked within such a
seemingly humble man of God.

Mister Rogers reentered my life once I began my career in
public television. I worked as a master control operator for WYIN
in Merrillville, Indiana in the late ’80s. One day, working the
afternoon shift, all heck broke loose: the transmitter was down,
the chief engineer and the program director were shouting and
frantically hitting buttons. I was still very new, and very
nervous about keeping my first broadcasting job. As my anxiety
mounted, I focused on the eye of the storm, the oasis of calm,
the 17-inch screen in front of me: the one on which Fred Rogers
offered words of quiet reassurance. It was a moment that I hope
I’ll never forget.

Over the years, I became fascinated with the program,
deconstructing its messages and marvelling at the bizarre flights
of fantasy that often emerged from the Neighborhood of Make-
Believe. Mister Rogers had a way of tying together everything,
making connections that defied adult logic. A segment on
silverware inspired an opera about a trip to Spoon Mountain. In
Fred’s world, your friend might be a Purple Panda from Planet
Purple, and your king might sing “Row, Row Your Boat” in the most
complicated manner possible.

Several years ago, Mister Rogers made the keynote address at
the PBS Annual Meeting in Miami, Florida. As always, he spoke of
simple, but important ideas: acts of caring, the need to love and
to be loved. When the speech and the conference concluded, many
ran to catch their planes and to return to their worlds of adult
responsibilities. But a great many lined up for the opportunity
to spend a few moments with the kind, old man who had greeted
them each morning so many years ago. Grown men and women were
moved to tears as they hugged their childhood friend.

For his part, Fred waited patiently, shaking hands, posing for photos,
signing conference program books and giving each person all the time that
they needed to express their feelings. He stayed for at least an hour, long
enough for me to get through the line, then to run to my hotel room and
fetch my wife so that she could hug and cry as well. People have
subsequently asked me, “Is he really the way he acts on TV?” My response has
always been, “He’s exactly what you see on TV.”

That’s what I remember most about Fred Rogers. He was a man
who could temporarily wipe away years of bitterness with a few
words reminding us that We Are Special, each in our own way. Fred
would probably reject this notion, but I feel that he was perhaps
the most special of all of us. The world needs more people like
Mister Rogers. There can never be enough love, acceptance and

David Thiel
Program Director / WILL-TV
Champaign, IL

Dave and Mr. Rogers

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