It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood – to learn about the man most people have come to know as Mister Rogers.
In his lifetime, Fred Rogers became a superstar among people of all ages, making connections with millions who saw him on screen.
His wife, Joanne Rogers on TV to talk about the new documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and discuss her late husband‘s public legacy and their private memories.
She sweetly reminisced about her time getting to know Fred, saying he struck her as “different” while they were young but also “lively and fun.” Joanne said he would talk to her about his feelings, and she felt comfortable doing the same, sharing the things that bothered them and the things they loved.
Fred and Joanne Rogers were married for 51 years until he passed away in 2003 at age 74. They shared a lifetime of love and friendship over the course of their marriage and, it turns out, behind the scenes, Fred very much was the same kind and compassionate man he was on TV.
Joanne, now 90 years old, has helped promote the documentary about her late husband, stopping by the Today show to talk about, among other things, how Fred proposed to her after he moved away from Florida to New York.
Joanne and Fred met at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida in the late 1940s where they were both music majors. Sara “Joanne” Byrd was an only child who grew up in Florida and showed musical abilities from an early age. Joanne started studying piano at age five after a neighbor noticed her musicality and encouraged her mother to have her begin lessons.
Among the interviews featured in the documentary is one with someone who has observed Rogers up close for 50 years: his wife.
Joanne Rogers, separately told “Nightline” her husband was a lifelong Republican, and thinks the world could use some more “Mr. Rogers” these days.
“We have somebody leading us right now who is not a forgiver,” she said. “His values are very, very different from Fred’s values – almost completely opposite.”
Joanne also shared some insight into Fred’s younger days, which she said, “he was lively and full of fun,” but he was also very open, she explained: “he talked about his feelings, and I could talk about my feelings to him and the things that bothered us, the things that we loved.”
Joanne continued, “You can’t build a friendship without doing that. And don’t you have to have a friendship to fall back on in your married life? We had it for 50 years. That was nice.”
Another interesting detail about Fred was his obsession with the number 143, as Joanne explained the hidden message in those numbers. She shared: “He really wanted to remain at 143 [pounds] all of his life — all of his adult life, I should say. Especially after he started swimming; he swam every day.”
“He was very pleased when he would get out of swimming, go and get on the scale: 143. One was I, 4 was L-O-V-E, 3 was Y-O-U. He had enough love to go around,” Joanne continued.
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Fred’s widow also talked about his final days before he passed away following a battle with stomach cancer, noting, “There was a feeling of real relief when I could say to him, ‘You know, we’re going to be OK. We’re going to be all right.”
“The boys will be fine, and I’m going to try to be fine.’ So when he went, I could feel he went at peace and even with joy. I really feel he went with joy,” she noted.
Joanne also discussed how Fred wanted to share the importance of acceptance and inclusivity with his viewers and on one episode, asked the character Officer Clemmons to dip his feet into his kiddie pool. His widow shared: “At that time in history, white people didn’t want African Americans in their swimming pools. And so they were pouring acid and all kinds of bad things in to keep them out. Fred knew about that. This was having to do with that.”
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