As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.
fred rogers

fred’s effect on the public extended far beyond the viewing audience of his television program. From the very beginning, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was recognized as having a mission unlike other children’s television programming. The Neighborhood became synonymous with a concern for children and their families. As a consequence, Fred became a spokesperson for children and their caregivers everywhere.

What we now take for granted as common issues for discussion in the public forum of the media were subjects Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood introduced into the conversation. Divorce, death, disabilities, and diversity were all topics Fred took on. With his simple, honest approach, Fred discussed children’s fears about visiting the dentist, getting a haircut, disappearing down the bathtub drain, and going to school for the first time.

Through music and stories, his caring and wisdom transcended every barrier; his advocacy for children was truly an advocacy for the human race. My family and I are incredibly grateful to have enjoyed his friendship.
yo-yo ma, cellist

In 2003, Time Magazine columnist James Poniewozik wrote, “Mister Rogers was softer than anyone else in children’s TV because so many of the messages he had to impart were harder…. Mister Rogers spoke softly, but he never soft-pedaled. And he knew how to be both compassionate and authoritative.” The messages Fred communicated were relevant not only to children, but also to adults, independent of their roles as parents, and to humanity at large.

Fred was always an advocate for the needs of children and families, but, over time, he became their public voice as well. In 1969, he appeared before a United States Senate subcommittee to give testimony in support of reinstating funding for public television. The chairman, Senator John Pastore, was a notoriously gruff and impatient presence, and he was prepared to dismiss Fred with barely a hearing. Yet within a few minutes, Fred had won him over. The senator said that Rogers had given him “goose bumps,” and because of Fred’s stirring words, the subcommittee approved the 20 million dollars in funding.

A WIDER CIRCLE

Fred was the recipient of two George Foster Peabody Awards, five Emmys, including an Emmy for Lifetime Achievement from the national Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the TV Critics Association, and every major award in television for which he was eligible. He received more than 40 honorary degrees and delivered commencement speeches at colleges and universities across the country; he delivered the commencement addresses at Saint Vincent College in 1973 and in 2000. In 1979, the 25th anniversary of Fred’s work in children’s television was celebrated with a three-day symposium held at Saint Vincent College. In 2002, President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Fred, citing his more than 30 years of entertaining and educating children through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and commending his “legendary commitment to young people” as “an enriching part of American life.” On January 1, 2003, in his last public appearance, Fred served as a Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, and he tossed the coin for the Rose Bowl Game.

Fred’s work still has an enormous impact today. The Fred Rogers Company continues to distribute his work and produce projects in various media, and the Fred Rogers Archive at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media is preserving his work for access by researchers, educators, and others.

Next
Next