In a conversation with Joanne Rogers, loving memories of beautiful days with her husband and family
Posted in , Dec 10, 2019
Sometimes I think the ultimate test for someone’s authenticity is not in talking to them but to reach out to their loved ones. Famous people might be famous for all sorts of sterling qualities, but how well do they live those values out with their families?
Mister Rogers died some 16 years ago. He’s not around to savor the attention coming his way because of the new movie about him starring Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The person on the red carpet has been his widow Joanne Rogers. And she is just as delightful as you can imagine.
I had the pleasure of chatting with her not long ago, and her warmth and good humor radiated right through the phone. Several times she broke into laughter, and you immediately thought, Yes, that’s how she and Fred must have been with each other. Laughing together.
It clearly was a marriage of equals. Fred might have been able to sit down at the piano and play any song by ear, but Joanne Rogers had her own career as a pianist and piano teacher that her husband admired and respected, both of them music majors. He must have enjoyed hearing her play.
As someone who struggles to find the perfect present for my talented wife, I love that the gift he gave—the one he was especially proud about—was a piano bench for the four-handed duets she liked to play with friends. Did she ever use it with Fred? She didn’t say.
You wonder, too, what it would have been like to grow up as the son of Mister Rogers. Wouldn’t that have been a source of teasing on the playground? Did they ever resent their father’s fame? It didn’t seem so. As she pointed out, they would race by the TV when his show was on and exclaim “Other Daddy.”
Every summer the family spent time away from the pressures of work and TV fame at a beach house where they could enjoy each other, a sort of summer Sabbath. Family came first.
I’m sure she must miss her beloved husband. How nice, though, that she gets to be honored herself. I sure hope at some event she has the chance to sit down and play the piano—with the double bench. I suspect Fred would like that. A beautiful day in any neighborhood.