Growing up in the Pittsburgh area like many 70’s kids our television had 4 stations CBS, ABC, NBC and the PBS channel. The PBS channel was hard to find though because it required the secondary knob on the television to dial it in. In addition, the rabbit ears had to be adjusted. In other words, there was no remote and just changing the channel on the old black and white television required A mechanical/electrical engineering degree. For those of you that have no idea of any of the above, you probably still can relate PBS show Mister Rodgers Neighborhood. Most of todays older kids still watch reruns. Now of course for younger children its Daniel Tigers Neighborhood.
Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) was an icon of American television. He along with Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street and Gilligans Island filled my childhood. Fred was not just Mister Rogers on television. He was a child advocate beyond compare. Fred Rogers who passed away in 2003, has many credits including pastor, puppeteer, but mostly its the child advocacy and savior of Public Broadcasting that remain his legacy. In 1969, Fred Rogers appeared before congress to stem off cuts from Public Broadcasting and preserved alternative child programming like Mister Rogers Neihborhood.
I began watching Mister Rogers and the red sweater most likely around age 3 in 1970. At the time of course, I did not know the sweater was red. Red did not show through on the old black and white television. I probably watched the show at least 2 episodes a day. I could quote the characters , all voiced over by Mister Rogers, verbatim. Even as child, I used Mister Rogers situationally to overcome fears, handle fights with my brother, understand order, and overcome new situations. Fred Rogers was a master of child psychology and he impacted my views very early in life.
I stopped watching Mr Rogers at some point along the way. With his removal from my television viewing schedule went the red sweater, “will you be my neighbor song”, the trolley, feeding the fish and King Friday VIII. I continued to speed through teenage years. By then Mister Rogers Neighborhood on PBS transformed into Eddie Murphy’s parody of the show on Saturday Night Live. Through all of it somehow, Fred Rogers had an ongoing impact on my views.
While nearing the end of my time at Allegheny College I had a friend who interned with Mr Rogers. Her roles included assisting in the production of the show and serving as an aide to Fred Rogers. I was working near the WQED studios near Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Little did I know that I would meet and interact on multiple occasions with Mister Rogers himself.
What stunned me as a young college student was Mister Rogers on television was the same as Fred Rogers in real time. Fred Rogers was genuinely interested in my chosen healthcare profession as well as in my growth as a societal contributor. He was genuinely interested in young persons pursuits. A sit down with Fred Rogers was like sitting in on the show. His questions and tenacity for knowledge were softened by a fondness for the humans and a kindness for them. He showed this to me at each of our meetings. Here are a few of the things that I can recall from 26 years ago that remain with me today. Here is what Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) taught me through television, language and persona:
- Each person you come across in life has something to teach you. Most of those lessons are unexpected.
- The first step in leadership is intellectual curiosity regarding people and process.
- Step 1A of leadership is kindness.
- We must invest in children to have a future.
- We as individuals control our destiny but not absolutely without others.
- Success is a path and there are no shortcuts.
- We each have role in this big world – fulfill that role and do it well.
- Recall where you came from and cherish it but don’t dwell on the past.
- A smile eases most persons concerns in life.
- He reinforced that God is in control.
I continue, like most, to relearn these lessons over and over. Fred Rogers ascent to help society is rarely matched. I hope to continue to explore further leadership lessons. My hope is to continue to pursue that ideal with fervor. Thank you for reading.