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there goes the neighborhood
remembering a good man
by juli mccarthy
2.28.03
pop culture


Mr. Rogers is gone. On February 27, 2003, the sweater and sneakers were forever retired when Fred Rogers passed away after a brief struggle with stomach cancer. He left this world with the same quiet dignity that he brought to it with his long-running children's show -- no fuss, no drama, no hoopla. He was an island of calm in a sea of fast-paced children's entertainment.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood debuted when I was a toddler, and I grew up watching him change his sneakers, feed the fish and exchange pleasantries with the mailman. His routine and his message were simple and enduring. While other children's shows strove for bigger, louder, faster, more, Mr. Rogers calmly went about his business of reassurance and comfort.

When Mr. Rogers came onto the screen, he would remove his sport coat and dress shoes, and change into sneakers and a sweater. By changing into "play" clothes, he showed us that there was an adult in this world who would make time for us and only us. We knew he had a grown-up life, but we also knew that he set it aside for us. It never intruded on "our" time. Mr. Rogers never complained about his bad day at the office or his phone bill.

It was Mr. Rogers who showed us how crayons and sneakers were made. He taught us that it was OK to be sad, and OK to cry. He took joy in the simple pleasures of a child's life, from balloon animals to sand castles. And it was he who took the time to reassure us that we can never go down, never go down, never go down the drain.

In his Neighborhood of Make-Believe, people interacted with royalty, chatted with cats and owls, and staged elaborate operas. To adults, it was hokey. To children, it was magical. Here was a grown-up who understood that in a child's world, purple pandas and shy tigers were just as likely as parents and siblings. But Mr. Rogers, with his faithful Trolley, made sure that children also understood the line between make-believe and real. Pretending is fun, but reality can be just as interesting and just as rewarding.

When a celebrity dies, all too often the media digs up sordid stories and scandals about him. Mr. Rogers had no such scandals. He was universally respected and loved. Think I'm exaggerating? When his car was stolen a few years ago and the media reported it, the car was returned by the thieves the next day with a note: "Sorry - we didn't know it was YOUR car."

As an ordained minister, he never preached to his flock. Instead of talking the talk, Mr. Rogers walked the walk. He set an example of kindness and gentleness, and taught children that they were both capable of and deserving of that love. In a world torn by conflict, he provided a safe and quiet place to nurture a child's spirit.

He was a good and gentle man. And he will be missed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers.


ABOUT JULI MCCARTHY

A whole gallon of attitude, poured into a pint container.

more about juli mccarthy

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
2.28.03 @ 7:26a

sniff

He was the type of person that lends a body to believe in angels. No doubt about it.

I watched a little retrospective on PBS yesterday and felt five years old all over again.

erik myers
2.28.03 @ 9:39a

Damn.. this is to much nicer than the crap that's been all over the regular news sites. So much more human.

Have you seen the big thing quoted in all of the sites?

'Staff members rushed into work around 2:20 a.m. after hearing that Rogers had passed away, Lynch said.

"We're very loyal and dedicated," she said of the employees.'


Huh? So what?

[edited]

juli mccarthy
2.28.03 @ 9:41a

Someone said something to me yesterday that I really wish I could take credit for: "the world is just a little less quiet now, and that's a sad thing."

No school today, so my teenager is parked in front of the TV and watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. It makes me sad to think that her kids won't have that, because one of the things I looked forward to most when she was a baby was introducing her to my neighbor.

(Yes, I know, I am a huge bag o' mush when it comes to Mr. Rogers.)

sarah ficke
2.28.03 @ 9:43a

I wish I could sit at home and watch it. You know, I haven't seen it in years, but I can still hear the timbre of his voice in my head.

juli mccarthy
2.28.03 @ 9:49a

"We're very loyal and dedicated," she said of the employees.'

Huh? So what?


What she probably MEANT was, he was the kind of man who inspires loyalty and dedication, and it would be unthinkable that anyone wouldn't respond quickly. At least I hope that's what she meant.

jael mchenry
2.28.03 @ 10:53a

Oh, that car story is priceless. They returned Mr. Rogers' car. Awwwww.

erik myers
2.28.03 @ 11:06a

What she probably MEANT was, he was the kind of man who inspires loyalty and dedication, and it would be unthinkable that anyone wouldn't respond quickly. At least I hope that's what she meant.

I hope that's what she meant, too. It sounded a lot like, "We're such good employees! Gee, I hope we're not out of a job, now!" Or, "We're such good employees! We just had to get started on the TV special, right away!"

Mr. Rogers was pristine and untarnished in an industry that lends itself to rust. I want him to stay that way.

matt morin
2.28.03 @ 11:42a

I don't know. I just never really got into Mr. Rogers. I think a lot of what turned me off was that he spoke to me like I was a child - very slowly, deliberately, and with strange voice inflection.

My parents always believed that if you spoke to a child like a child, you were doing more harm than good. They never simplified their speech down to a 6-year-old level when speaking to me. I guess I never liked the fact that Mr. Rogers did.

Call me a Commie bastard...I know.

erik myers
2.28.03 @ 11:45a

Commie bastard.

I always got the feeling that he was speaking as if children were his equals. Just because it was slow and gentle doesn't mean that it was only for children. It showed patience and caring.

And Juli's right.. We knew he had a grown-up life, but we also knew that he set it aside for us. It never intruded on "our" time. Mr. Rogers never complained about his bad day at the office or his phone bill.

That's what made him special. He didn't speak down to us, he spoke directly to us.

juli mccarthy
2.28.03 @ 12:04p

Matt, it's possible that he spoke to you like a child because you WERE a child. His goal was not to wake you up to the harsh ugliness that is the real world, but to provide a haven FROM that, where the child was the focus - to minister to the children. All too often, the child is lost in and among adult concerns. What is important to a child is not necessarily what is important to an adult. Children have much smaller viewpoints of the world, and their very big concerns (rightly) seem small to adults. But the fact that a child's immediate concerns are small do not diminish their importance in a child's mind.

I believe Mr. Rogers was one of very few adults who understood the mind of a child, and provided undivided attention to those concerns.

So yeah, you're a commie bastard.

matt morin
2.28.03 @ 12:07p

Oh, I'm not talking about the content of what he told me. I'm just talking about the delivery. Even as a 5 or 6-year-old it would frustrate me that he spoke so slowly and enunciated he words so deliberately. I always thought: I. Can. Understand. You. Please. Speak. Normally.

It is sad that he's gone though. From everything i've ever heard, he really did seem to be the most genuine man on TV.

[edited]

[edited]

juli mccarthy
2.28.03 @ 12:11p

In that case, you're a commie bastard for picking on the way he talked. It's MR. ROGERS fergossakes!

Seriously though - I've heard the man in interviews and he really did speak that way. I don't think his slow and methodical speech mannerisms were specifically engineered for kids, but as it turned out, they were best suited for that.

juli mccarthy
2.28.03 @ 12:11p

Whoops - double posted. Sorry.

[edited]

jeff wilder
2.28.03 @ 5:49p

Mr. Rogers was the friend that all of us could have. I remember how I would watch him on TV when I was 2-6 years old. For some reason I never got into Sesame Street too much (then again I was more into books than television even then). I always preferred Mr. Rogers, maybe because he seemed more human than talking birds (although nowadays I can better appreciate the subtle humor that Sesame Street had in its pre-Elmo days).

Mr. Rogers accomplished an important task. He made little children laugh. In a cruel world that often forces children to grow up too fast, he was the reassuring father figure to many of them. You couldn't think of a better man for the job.

He's gone now and I don't know what to do. I can't see kids feeling the same level of kinship with some actor running around in a purple dinosaur costume.

RIP Fred Rogers and thank you for the memories.

robert melos
3.1.03 @ 6:01p

I'm feeling really out of the loop. I never got into any of the children's television stuff. I watched Gumby, Bugs Bunny, and just about every cartoon on the air. I did watch the Magic Garden, but that's as children's TV as I got.

This was a very nice tribute to him, Juli. It filled in a bit of what I missed not watching him when I was a child.



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