David Cannon '73 | July 3, 2018
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, driven by immigrant ethnicity, topography, and historic clustering of workers around their places of work. Centered around coal mines, inland river ports, and manufacturing plants that provided the steel, aluminum, and glass to the nation, hundreds of towns, enclaves and settlements make up the Steel City. Yet it is Pittsburgh’s fictional Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that children and grownups most recognize around the world.
America was first introduced to that now-famous locale in 1968 with the national debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, though Fred Rogers and his puppets had been appearing in different shows (particularly in Pennsylvania) since the 1950s. In addition to being the 50th anniversary of the eponymous show, this year also marks 90 years since Fred’s birth, and our shared hometown has been awash with reflections, stories and celebrations devoted to one of its most famous and beloved sons. But fifty years later and over a decade since his death, Mister Rogers belongs as much to the world as to Pittsburgh. It is bittersweet to read the reflections and see the accolades (and Forever Stamps) being bestowed on the man so many years after his earthly gifts to us. An impatient God takes the best of us before we are prepared to let go.
I met Fred Rogers in the early 1980s when we both frequented a local health club for pre-dawn swimming. I had always been somewhat wary of the seemingly over-sentimental attitude of his television persona, and, being a bit of a skeptic, I was unsure just how much of this could be genuine. But with Fred Rogers, what you saw was what you got. As I became more comfortable around the legend, spending several mornings a week with him and experiencing his palpable concern for and heartfelt interest in those around him, I was converted. When Fred was talking to you, it was all about you — your day ahead, your aspirations, but mostly your children. I never encountered anyone who radiated such a selfless concern about the children of even a casual acquaintance — kids he had never met but after whom he constantly asked.
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