I was saddened by news of the passing of Fred Rogers, a.k.a "Mr. Rogers", earlier today to stomach cancer. He was 74. Fred Rogers was, by any measurement, a good man who lived a good life. I remember watching his show on PBS, fascinated mostly by the model trolley he was able to summon into his living room at the push of a button, before sending us off to the Land of Make Believe. To the end (the last episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood debuted August 2001) he remained a far cry from the eye candy that fills children's television these days. He knew what he wanted to say. He never sold out.
I hadn't realized that there was a Canadian connection to this story; Mr. Rogers started his television show on the CBC back in 1962 before returning to America and making television history. There is connections between him and the Canadian children's icon, Mr. Dressup, since Ernie Coombs began his career as a puppeteer on CBC's Misterogers.
It's easy to parody or poke a little fun at the innocence of Mr. Rogers and Mr. Dressup, and many do. But Mr. Rogers was wholly committed to the education of children and a firm believer in the good of humanity. You can not look back at his life without coming away with a great respect for the individual. If we poke fun at that innocence and the quiet moral certainty, it's perhaps because we know we can not live up to his life.
Erin remembers recently when Yo-Yo Ma was a guest on Mr. Rogers, playing Sarabande from Bach's first cello concerto. And when the music was done, Mr. Rogers said, "sometimes, when you hear something so beautiful, you just need to sit quietly for a while." And that's what he did, on camera, for thirty whole seconds.
Television rarely, if ever, gives space to such sentiment. Mr. Rogers makes that space. That's what makes him special.