Mr. Rogers -- 02/28/03

On weekday mornings Nancy and I usually spend a few minutes watching the morning news on one of the Providence tv stations (Channel 10). Yesterday morning, just before a commercial break, the news anchor looked straight at the camera and said "This is a caution to parents who may have young children in the room. When we return from this break we will have some potentially disturbing news."

What? The morning news had, in addition to the usual collection of local, national, and international events, continuing extensive follow-up coverage of the deadly nightclub fire in West Warwick. After all of that, what kind of news could prompt a warning like that?

And when the news broadcast resumed, the screen was filled with a picture of Fred Rogers while we heard the news of his death. Those of you who live in other countries probably do not know Fred Rogers, but every parent in the United States and Canada knew him... No, probably almost everyone in the United States and Canada knew him. His children's program -- Mister Rogers Neighborhood -- had been on the air in Pittsburgh on WQED since the early '60's (it used characters and puppets he had created for the first children's programming on WQED a decade earlier and on a Mister Rogers Neighborhood program he had done on Canadian television for a year or so) and then was picked up by PBS for nation-wide broadcast in 1968. That was the year my eldest child was born -- and was the year before Sesame Street began -- so naturally, a couple of years later we would watch Captain Kangaroo in the morning and Sesame Street and, in late afternoon, Mr. Rogers. When our two "little ones" were born (birthdays are coming in May, they'll be 21 and 18!) they each, in turn, became watchers of Mr. Rogers.

Last night my son had alerted Nancy and me that the Boston public tv station had a program on about that teacher who (thirty and more years ago) had done a special lesson on discrimination by dividing her class into blue-eyes and brown-eyes (one day blue-eyes were special and brown-eyes were discriminated against; the next day the postions were switched and blue-eyes were discriminated against) and when these students came back as adults for a reunion they all talked about how much they had learned from that lesson. I guess the program had been mentioned in school and he remembered us having once discussed this with him. Upon the conclusion of that program they announced that the program scheduled to follow had been cancelled so that they could present a Fred Rogers biography that had originally aired in 1990. Our big strong tough weight-lifting macho high school senior had to watch this broadcast; he remembered Mr. Rogers with great fondness.

I understand that PBS intends to continue to broadcast Mister Rogers Neighborhood. I hope that they will continue that indefinitely. I'm going to be a grandfather this summer and I'd like my grandson to be able to enjoy Mr. Rogers just as all of my children have.

Fred Rogers 1928-2003

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