A deep thinker lived quietly in Fred Rogers' neighborhood

If you scroll down to the previous blog, you'll see a story about Fred Rogers, who's profiled in a dandy PBS special Tuesday (March 6). Friends describe Rogers' sense of play and fun; alongside that, however, was a philosopher and a skilled writer. We once got a sampling of that; here's an account that I sent to papers, recalling the pensive side of Rogers:

By Mike Hughes

This was not what we
expected from a man who talks to puppets, a man who sang while
putting on his sweater and sneakers.

We weren't expecting
him to be pensive and thought-provoking. Fred Rogers kept surprising

That was 20 years
ago, but it seems timely now for two reasons, one good (the late
Rogers is the subject of a documentary Tuesday) and one not (the
topic that day was school shootings).

It was Jan. 7, 1998,
six weeks shy of a landmark anniversary. “For 30 years, 'Mister
Rogers' Neighborhood' has personified a place where caring and
consideration for others instills good feelings in all of us,”
Kathy Quattrone, then PBS' programming chief, said in her

She had brought
Rogers to a Television Critics Association press conference. This was
friendly turf; a year earlier, he'd received the TCA's Career
Achievement Award.

Rogers could have
viewed this casually; instead, he brought a carefully crafted speech.

“Early last
month,” he began, “a small, 14-year-old boy in West Paducah,
Kentucky, said to his classmates, 'Something big is going to happen.'

“A week later,
that boy walked into school with earplugs in his ears and a gun in
his hand, and he shot and killed three people and (wounded five)
more. That was his 'something big.'

“When I hear that
story and others like it, I wonder how much our society has
encouraged children to idolize the big and the flashy and the loud.”

Rogers was saying
this in his usual manner, which was never big or loud. “He was a
very private person .... I don't think he ever screamed and yelled,”
his widow Joanne said 15 years later.

Here, he spoke of
quiet values. “The most holy people of every tradition have always
encouraged us to celebrate the good, the simple, the modest, the
truthful. Because that's what lasts forever.”

He spoke of Mother
Teresa and of one of his musician friends: “Yo-Yo (Ma) is the most
other-oriented genius I've ever known. His gorgeous music comes from
a place which is very deep within his being. There are times when ...
I'm convinced that he is in touch with the very heart of the

He spoke of TV
“programs which encourage people to believe that big is best, that
loud is necessary, and that violence and cruelty are the ways we
human beings must solve our problems.”

And he spoke of
raising kids who know they are loved, “not because they're big and
loud and noisy, but because they're one of a kind .... And being
able to say to their families and friends, enthusiastically and
without a trace of apology, 'Something little is going to happen.'”

-- “Fred Rogers:
It's You I Like,” 8 p.m. Tuesday (March 6) on most PBS stations