Perhaps one of the most iconic and Pittsburgh Beautiful people would’ve celebrated his 89th birthday today… Mr. Rogers. Famous for his gentle, kind-hearted personality, Fred Rogers was born in Latrobe, PA, some 40 miles to the southeast of Pittsburgh. He began playing the piano at the age of 5. Graduating from Latrobe High School, he attended Dartmouth and later Rollins Colleges, earning a degree in Music Composition. Interestingly enough, he was also a trained pilot in general aviation.
Returning to Pittsburgh, he graduated from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1963 and was ordained a minister in the United Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Rogers did not smoke or drink, and he was a vegetarian, once quoted as saying “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother.” His office at WQED in Pittsburgh contained a sofa and arm chairs, as he thought office furniture was a barrier to communication.
Not happy with the way television at the time addressed children, he decided to change things. Writing for and performing on local Pittsburgh shows dedicated to kids, WQED helped him develop his own show in 1968 and it was eventually distributed nationwide by the Eastern Educational Television Network. Over the course of the next 30 years, Mr. Rogers became an icon of child entertainment and education.
Mr. Rogers was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Peabody Award and forty honorary degrees. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood won 4 Emmys, and he was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1997. Inducted into the Television Hall of fame, he was ranked 35th in TV Guides Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All time. One of his sweaters (all made by his mother, according to him) is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute as a “Treasure of American History.”
Esquire’s Tom Junod described this scene at the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997:
“Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award—and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”
And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.” There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds—and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly “May God be with you,” to all his vanquished children.“
Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers.