A Farewell to Mister Rogers.

A Farewell to Mister Rogers.

A Farewell to Mister Rogers.

Bringing out the dead.
Feb. 27 2003 6:59 PM

Goodbye, Neighbor

A Farewell to Mister Rogers.

A neighbor to all
A neighbor to all

Compared to Sesame Street, which preceded it on our local affiliate, and Electric Company, which came on after it, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was to me and my brother the "slow" show on PBS, a beige lecture that mostly taught us about advantageous time slots. I for one never understood the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Mister Rogers also lived in a bland house and not on a mean street (say, Sesame Street), and the formality he enforced—Lady This and King That and Mister—made him seem like our musty uncle whereas Maria and Luis were our cool teen babysitters. But he showed up, on time, every day. And we never turned him off.

Fred Rogers, who died Thursday at 74, claimed to love virtually everybody and everything, except television, which he despised the moment he saw it. ("I got into television because I hated it so," Rogers told CNN a few years ago.) He determined at once to use the medium for good, to deliver simple sermons to children on how to handle problems like anger or sibling rivalry. In a career that spanned six decades on the air (he started in 1954), he won four daytime Emmys, and, in 1998, an Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Advertisement

As time passed, what became impressive to me about Fred Rogers was his stamina as a paragon of nerdy kindness. The jig was never up. Mister Rogers led his whole life kind, was never busted for shoplifting or arson or embezzlement. He really did believe that the hungry need of children for love was universal and never changed, and that his own persona should be as steady. Launched in a short pilot in Canada in 1963, the same year he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood became the longest-running show ever on PBS. Later, when Eddie Murphy did the SNL ghetto parody of Rogers—"When a man loves a woman very much, they lay down and the man gives the woman $20"—and when Esquire rightfully reminded us of the man's wizardry with unhappy kids by putting him on the cover and calling him "not some convenient eunuch but rather a man, an authority figure," I remembered how, when my brother was out, I would secretly watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood not to mock it but just to drink in its reassurances. I called my brother this morning, and he admitted to doing the same thing. Once or twice.

We also remembered Mister Rogers' song about why kids should take baths:

Virginia Heffernan Virginia Heffernan

Virginia Heffernan is a contributing editor at Politico. Follow her on Twitter.

You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain.
You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain.

Fred Rogers was a puzzling figure, but he had endurance, and he was, for his whole life, as marvelously guileless as he seemed.