Family spokesman David Newell, who played letter carrier Mr. McFeely on the show, told reporters, ”He was so genuinely, genuinely kind, a wonderful person.”
“His mission was to work with families and children for television … That was his passion, his mission, and he did it from day one.”
Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, said he created “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” — a calm, slow-paced program aimed at teaching children values and self-esteem — to counteract some of the negative elements he saw in television programming.
“Ours is a humble, simple offering,” Rogers said in a 1993 interview. “I think of the Neighborhood as a safe place where people have a chance to use whatever they have inside them to help them grow.”
Rogers began his first show in 1954, a program called “The Children’s Corner” aimed at young people in Pittsburgh. In 1963, he accepted an offer to develop a 15-minute program called “Misterogers” for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. National Educational Television, which later became PBS, picked up Rogers’ program in 1968, and Rogers produced new episodes until December 2000. The nearly 900 episodes of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” continue to air on PBS stations nationwide.
On the program, Rogers talked about topics like divorce, dealing with anger and sharing, and reinforced the message that everyone has their own special attributes. Rogers said helping children to see the good in themselves was among his most important goals.
“We only have one life to live on earth,” Rogers said after being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. “Through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative and imaginative ways.”
Rogers came out of retirement in 2002 to record public service announcements for PBS telling parents how to help children deal with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“If they see the tragedy replayed on television, they might think it’s happening at that moment,” he warned.
Associates at “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” say that Rogers, who studied early childhood development at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote most of the songs and scripts for the program himself, and provided many of the voices for the puppets who inhabited his Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
“He was certainly a perfectionist. There was a lot more to Fred than I think many of us saw,” Joe Negri, a guitarist for the program, told the Associated Press.
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” won several Emmies and two George Foster Peabody awards, while Rogers himself received lifetime achievement awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the TV Critics Association. President Bush awarded Rogers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998, Rogers said he hoped television programmers would continue to use the medium to help people discover themselves.
“There have been and continue to be programs that encourage children to think big is best … and violence and cruelty are the ways we human beings must solve our problems,” Rogers said.
“You and I must do all we can to encourage the producers and purveyors of all mass media to help us raise children who will reject that violence and cruelty — reject it because somehow they have become aware at the deepest levels of their being that they are lovable, not because they’re big, and loud and noisy, but because they’re one of a kind.”