As a child, I was never a fan of Mr. Rogers and his strangely calm neighborhood, and as an adult I never thought about him much, but a few years ago my sister-in-law sent me a profile about him that was in Esquire magazine, of all places. It was a special issue on heroes, and in it Tom Junod had a piece about Fred Rogers called “Can You Say… Hero?” By the time I had finished reading it, I was ready to nominate Mr. Rogers for canonization (and Junod for a Pulitzer).
During the first day of writer at large Tom Junod’s interviews with Fred Rogers for Esquire’s special Heroes issue (11/98), he accidentally left his pen at Mr. Rogers’s New York apartment. “When I got there the next day,” says Junod, “there was an envelope sitting on his table, and inside that envelope I suppose was my pen, but on the outside of the envelope in Fred’s perfect calligraphy was ‘This is Tom’s pen.’ I keep that envelope next to my desk and I’ve never opened it. It’s a signal that when you write, anything can happen. It just always tells me that you never know what’s going to be inside.”
In my poking around, I found another good article on Mr. Rogers by Rip Rense, which by the way offers yet another quote by Junod.
“I think the greatest misconception involving Fred is that he’s mild to the point of weakness,” said Junod, from his home in Georgia. “When in fact, he’s mild to the point of great strength. He has one of the most powerful and commanding presences I’ve ever been around. His effect on people is astonishing. His affect on me was astonishing. The (Esquire) story meant a lot to me, but I was not in a place I wanted to be, writing-wise. I wasn’t feeling the connection to my work I’m used to. Fred helped me restore that. He did not deliberately do anything. He does not proselytize for any position, but there is no question in my mind but that Fred knew I was in a place I didn’t want to be—and he used his time with me to get me back. He’s a canny guy, that Fred. Watch out for him.”
Look down on us and smile, St. Fred.