If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed my propensity to point out a hidden side of famous people and events that may forever change your perception of them. This entry is not an example of that. This entry is about Fred "Mister" Rogers, the kindest, gentlest, and most worthy person to have walked the Earth in recent (if not all of) history.
Mister Rogers was a teacher, a minister, a songwriter, an author, and most famously the host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, where he more or less single-handedly bestowed self-esteem upon millions of children over the show's 33-year run. He's the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Peabody Award, and honorary degrees from over 40 institutions. He did this all while remaining humble and down-to-earth, not because he made an effort but because he was always genuinely more interested in everyone else's stories.
But that's not even the impressive part.
Other people have earned honorary degrees and Peabodys and Medals of Freedom, and many of them maintained a healthy humility. What makes Fred Rogers unique is that as much as you dig, as far back into his history as you look, no matter how much you scrutinize, the man proved to be utterly incorrubtible. Every rumor to the contrary has proven to be categorically false.
Fred Rogers never served in the military and thus never racked up a large confirmed kill count. He had no tattoos covering his arms - he simply liked wearing sweaters on television because his mother knitted them all for him. He was never accused or convicted of any crimes, and certainly not anything related to pedophilia. Even the famous image of him allegedly flipping off his audience was taken out of context. He was simply singing "Where is Thumbkin" with a group of kids.
|I've got your Thumbkin right here.|
You know what he did do, though? He saved public television. His testimony to a Senate committee on funding public television is widely regarded as the reason said committee decided to more than double PBS's share of the budget pie.
In case you think that was a fluke, The U.S. Supreme Court also cited his testimony on home video recording in their decision that ensured such things would always remain legal. So you have him to thank for your self-esteem, PBS, and your DVR.
Outside of his political influence, he made a personal impact on just about everyone he ever met. That includes ivy-league educated gorillas. Well, at least one of them, but I'm not sure how many gorillas have gone to Stanford on a full ride scholarship. Koko the gorilla was a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and when he brought the show out to visit her she excitedly hugged him then started taking off his shoes like he did every day on the air.
|I can't really convey how happy this makes me in words|
Gorillas weren't the only ones starstruck by his presence. When his car was stolen and he filed a police report, the story made headlines and within 48 hours, he found it returned to exactly the spot he had left it. In the dashboard was an apology note saying the thieves would never have taken the car if they'd known it belonged to him.
Finally (and maybe a bit less objectively), one of the most impressive ways Fred Rogers lived his life was how he handled his faith. He was a Presbyterian minister and was extraordinarily devout. He lived his life the way he believed he was meant to. An unfortunate side effect often found in that type of life is an intolerance for anyone who doesn't do likewise.
To this vice, as to all others, Mr. Rogers was immune. Fundamentalist ministers asked him to speak out against homosexuality, and his response was to say to both the ministers with rustled jimmies and the people who were the subjects of their ire, "God loves you just the way you are."
Fred Rogers was a man of enormous moral conviction, strength, and fathomless cultural power, and he used all of it not for personal gain, but to tell the world that no matter who they were, no matter what they've been through, no matter what they've done with their lives, someone out there loved them.