Mister Rogers was one of the gentlest, sweetest men most of us have ever heard of. Several years ago, rumors spread that he had been a deadly Marine sniper in Vietnam and that his arms were covered in tattoos, which is why he always wore long sleeves. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fred Rogers was exactly as he seemed on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: a caring man, and a strong advocate for wholesome children’s programming. Why would this quiet pacifist be one of my greatest heroes? Because he had strong character, strong convictions, and he changed the world for the better.
As a child, I grew up watching PBS programming with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street up until I started school. I fondly remember his theme song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” as he completed his routine of changing his shoes and putting on his sweater. And then he would feed his fish, sing songs, and watch the trolley go by to visit King Friday, Daniel, and all the other puppets. He would talk to guests, visit interesting places, and talk to the viewers to tell us how much he cared. He wasn’t acting or pretending; he really meant it. Off camera, he was just as kind and friendly and interested in you well-being.
The first time Fred Rogers watched TV, it was a program full of violence, shouting, fighting, and he hated it. That’s why he got into television broadcasting: so he could make something that he thought was worth watching. He loved music and wrote almost all of the songs and music that were on his show. He was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, but instead of preaching, he stuck with television, using secular media to promote his Christian values by being a model Christian instead of a preacher. I read an interesting Mental Floss article about him mentioning that despite pressure from many religious groups, he would never endorse any sort of condemnation of gays or other sinners. Instead he would tell them, “God loves you just the way you are.”
Despite his gentleness and his humility, Mister Rogers spoke with authority when it was needed. At one point, he appeared before a senate subcommittee to defend public broadcasting. He spoke passionately and ended with a song he had written for his show. He completely charmed the chairman of the subcommittee and saved PBS from crippling budget cuts. Here’s a video clip of it:
I always loved his show growing up, and later when I learned more about him, I saw that I was right to look up to this man. I usually respect everyone’s right to an opinion, but if you don’t like Fred Rogers, you’re a bad person. Leave me a comment with your fond memories of Mister Rogers.