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Words of Hope and Healing After Crisis: Message From Mr. Rogers Goes Viral

December 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
After the shooting in Newtown, a tiny bit of hope was found in a message from children's advocate Fred Rogers via social media. Ray Suarez talks to Washington Post writer Maura Judkis whose father Jim Judkis photographed Rogers over his career, including the image published on Facebook along with words from the late Mr. Rogers.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: words of comfort in a time of tragedy, for kids and adults.

And again to Ray Suarez.

RAY SUAREZ: On Friday, as details of the horrific shooting in Newtown emerged, a group that supports public television posted on Facebook this image and these words from the late Fred Rogers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I’m always comforted by realizing there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in this world.”

That message has since been shared by tens of thousands of people online.

The picture was taken by Jim Judkis, who photographed Mr. Rogers over the years.

We’re now joined by his daughter, Maura Judkis, who is a writer for The Washington Post.

And did you realize soon after that your father’s photo was ricocheting around the Web?

(LAUGHTER)

MAURA JUDKIS, The Washington Post: I think I noticed it Friday evening. And at that point, it had been shared by maybe 50,000 people.

So I called him. And, of course, he was very honored and grateful that his image was with Fred’s words to help parents kind of through this difficult time and give them a way to explain something unexplainable to their children.

RAY SUAREZ: Did you realize right off that this was your father’s work?

MAURA JUDKIS: I did. You know, I’m a reporter, though, so I called him to double-check. But I did realize it was his work. I had known many of his photos of Mr. Rogers. He photographed Mr. Rogers over the course of about 25 years throughout his life.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you know the story behind that one? It’s very touching.

MAURA JUDKIS: I do.

(LAUGHTER)

MAURA JUDKIS: Yes.

So, it was actually my father’s first time that he had met Mr. Rogers as well. And they were on a shoot for “People” magazine. It was 1978. And it was a school for disabled children in Pittsburgh, which is where Mr. Rogers’ show was filmed.

And he was waiting in this room. And the children came through the door. And this one little boy came right up to Mr. Rogers. And he was just so excited. He said, “Mr. Rogers!” That’s how my dad says it.

And the boy reached up to Mr. Rogers’ face. And Mr. Rogers knelt down to look at the boy in the eyes. And that was the moment. And my dad sort of describes that moment as that boy was seeing God and touching God in a way.

RAY SUAREZ: Tactile. I mean, people see famous people all the time…

MAURA JUDKIS: Yes.

RAY SUAREZ: … and sometimes don’t know what to do. But here, because with the innocence of a child, he’s got both hands right up there on his face.

MAURA JUDKIS: Yes.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s a great image.

Fred Rogers was caring and gentle, but also credible when he talked about the lives of children, especially their inner lives. In 1968, he and his team at WQED Pittsburgh put together a response to the murder of U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.

FRED ROGERS, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”: I have been terribly concerned about the graphic display of violence which the mass media has been showing recently.

And I plead for your protection and support of your young children. There is just so much that a very young child can take, without it being overwhelming.

RAY SUAREZ: Could have been run last night.

MAURA JUDKIS: It’s true.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s a very relevant message.

You knew Fred Rogers.

MAURA JUDKIS: I did, yes. I had met him several times as a child. Sometimes, my dad would bring me to work with him.

RAY SUAREZ: What was your impression of him as a child?

MAURA JUDKIS: It was wonderful to meet Mr. Rogers.

First of all, he was everything that he was on the show. It wasn’t an act. It wasn’t just for the cameras. The times that I met him were sort of similar to the times that are in this photograph with this boy. Every time that Mr. Rogers would talk to a child or talk to me, he would get down so that he was looking at you in the eyes, so that you were kind of an equal plane. And that made a child feel really special.

RAY SUAREZ: Did you realize that he wasn’t like other adults, that he talked to you in a different way?

(LAUGHTER)

MAURA JUDKIS: I think he did.

I — you know, there’s just something so special about meeting him and knowing him. And I know that my siblings felt the same way too in all the times that we got to interact with him as kids.

RAY SUAREZ: Maura Judkis of The Washington Post, thanks for joining us.

MAURA JUDKIS: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: You can look more closely at that great photo on our website, where there’s also a link to PBS Parents and more of Mr. Rogers’ videos.

JUDY WOODRUFF: An amazing photo.