If any famous person in the Twentieth Century lived a more virtuous life than Fred Rogers, no one springs immediately to mind. His six-minute appearance in 1969 before the Senate subcommittee in charge of PBS funding is legendary, not only for its effectiveness (Senator Pastore restored funding on the spot), but for plain spoken sincerity so guileless and focused that it is almost child-like.
Three of my favorite Mr. Rogers stories are included in this CNN article:
(1) Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English. What most people don’t know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she’d always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off.
(2) . . . Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town. Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”
(3) Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec’s house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host). On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver’s home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life. [T]he house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.
Mr. Rogers was also a faithful correspondent with viewers. The indispensable Letters of Note website shows an exchange between Rogers and the family of a young fan, who had asked if he could watch the show in person. Here’s Mr. Rogers’ response:
The reply of Christopher’s grateful father: