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In Memorium: Fred Rogers

February 27, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, a farewell to our friend, Mr. Rogers, who died today of stomach cancer at age 74.

FRED ROGERS: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood — won’t you be mine won’t you be my neighbor.

JIM LEHRER: Generations of children have been welcomed into the neighborhood by the gentle, soft-spoken Fred Rogers.

FRED ROGERS: Would you be mine could you be mine won’t you be my neighbor…

JIM LEHRER: The ordained Presbyterian minister turned to television in 1954. He created a puppet show, called “the children’s corner,” on local Pittsburgh television.

FRED ROGERS: My name is Mr. Rogers.

JIM LEHRER: Rogers went on camera in 1963, starring in his own 15-minute program airing on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1968, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” came to U.S. Public television.

FRED ROGERS: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…

JIM LEHRER: The program lacked the flashy graphics and super- powered cartoon figures common to children’s programming. Instead, Rogers talked to children in respectful, reassuring tones about tough subjects, like death and divorce.

FRED ROGERS: I know a little girl and a little boy whose mother and father got a divorce, and those children cried and cried. We feel on “The Neighborhood” that whatever is mentionable is much more manageable. And so for children to be able to see us dealing with the death of a pet or being able to live through the trauma of living through a divorce, these are all things that are allowed to be talked about and allowed to be felt.

FRED ROGERS: When you see scary television you can turn it off. So let’s see what more they make of it now in the neighborhood of make believe. Okay, trolley.

JIM LEHRER: Rogers composed some of his songs, worked the puppets, and did some of the voices himself.

FRED ROGERS: It’s you I like.

JIM LEHRER: Always, he urged children to love themselves and others. Over the years, the program won four Emmys, two Peabody’s, and last year, Pres. Bush presented Rogers with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Four years ago today, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, he talked about the meaning of his nearly five decades in television.

FRED ROGERS: Fame is a four-letter word. And like tape, or zoom, or face, or pain, or life, or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job. We are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen, day and night. We all have only one life to live on earth, and through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.

JIM LEHRER: Rogers taped his last episode December 2000, but the program will continue in reruns. Every show concludes on a positive note. Here’s how today’s ended.

FRED ROGERS: I really liked being with you. You make my day such a special day by just you being yourself. I’ll be back next time. Good-bye.