Sad Day in the Neighborhood:
Remembering Mr. Rogers
Weaver, Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor of Mathematics and
Computer Science, portrayed Mr. Rogers in last year’s
Faculty Show. It was one of the show’s most popular
by Bob Weaver, Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor
of Mathematics and Computer Science
Rogers died this past week. This gentle man—an ordained
minister, an expert musician, an advocate for children—had
spent the past thirty-five years working to make the powerful
medium of television speak for and to children. He spoke to us
all as he spoke directly and honestly to the children in our midst.
He spoke of friendship; he spoke of feelings—and yes—he
spoke of love to children and grownups especially at times of
national or personal hurt when we may have found it hard to know
that love could be very close to us. He dared to speak about divorce
and violence and fears, asking difficult questions in a safe and
caring environment. He spoke of the goodness and worth that is
in each one of us and affirmed that we are OK because we are ourselves.
I have been privileged to "be" Mr. Rogers three times
in Mount Holyoke Faculty Shows over the years —first in
1980 and most recently last year, a full generation later. Somehow,
it has been easy to stroll in the Neighborhood of Make Believe
knowing that someone might be listening and recalling a comfortable
place in their memory—a time when they were helped by something
that was said or a song that was sung. I never had to do much
to "spoof" Mr. Rogers. Just recreating him on stage
seemed to move the audience, and they were soon singing along
with the songs. My part also required very little updating over
the years because Mr. Rogers remained so the same. His message
was timeless and true. He required neither focus groups nor public
relations advisers to know what was important to say, nor did
he try to change the nature of his daily visit into the homes
of families to "keep up with the times."
I always felt some personal connections with Mr. Rogers. He was
a Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania (so was my father);
his wife is an accomplished musician (as is my wife); and he loved
to sing and to write music (so do I). I met him once in church
on Nantucket where he summered and where I have occasionally visited.
His wife has given several concerts at Madison Avenue Presbyterian
Church in New York City, where my brother John is organist and
Fred Rogers was a quiet and powerful force for good. He can put
away his sneakers now —he really needed them in the early
days when all the programs were done "live," and he
didn't want to make noise in scurrying from the main set over
to other sets in the studio. They and the sweaters can go to places
of television memorabilia. But the memory of his message, more
important today than ever, will live on in the hearts of all of
us who have been touched by him.
I will miss you, Mr. Rogers. "It's such a good feeling, a
very good feeling, the feeling you know that we're friends. .
. . "