Remembering Mister Rogers
(1928 - 2003)

Writer-at-large Tom Junod profiled Fred Rogers in 1998, and found a friend. Here, a eulogy
Photograph by Dan Fred Rogers woke up every morning at five o'clock and prayed for nearly two hours for people he loved. He loved so many people—and so many people loved him—that I could never imagine the form his prayers took, but I knew that he prayed for me, and for my wife, and for members of my wife's family whom he had never met and whom he knew only through what I had told him in my phone calls and e-mails.

I wrote about Fred for Esquire in 1998. People were always amazed when I said that Fred and I had stayed in touch after my story—that we spoke on the phone a couple of times a year and that Fred had written me well over 100 e-mails—but once you entered into Fred's life, well, there was no doubt that he would enter into yours. He was not only the kindest man I'd ever met but also one of the most fiercely disciplined, to the degree that he saw nothing but the good in other human beings. When he saw the good in me, he fixed on it, and there was a never a moment in which he didn't try to make me live up to it, by word, or by example, or, most often, by prayer.

It is a source of terrible regret, now that he has died, that my wife, Janet, never met him in person. He was, however, a member of my household, a man conversant with the names of my nieces and nephews and with not only the names but also the temperaments of each of my dogs. His relationship with me was his relationship with us, and on Christmas Eve of this past year, I found out how strong that relationship was. Janet received a phone call on Christmas Eve. The call was intended for me, but I was out walking the dog, and Janet answered the phone. She barely knew the person calling, but she had reason to believe that he was a friend. He was not. He was angry at me, and so he wound up attacking my wife in the most personal terms. (Who he was, or his reason for attacking, has little to do with the outcome of this story.) Janet has lived a nearly blameless life; she has never been attacked that way, ever, especially by somebody with whom she supposed a bond, and that night, when we went to bed, she couldn't sleep. She was consumed with anger and ill wishes, and as Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day, she was still awake, and still tortured by what the attack had done to her own spirit. Finally, in near desperation, the thought came to her: "What would Mister Rogers do?" And the answer came nearly as quickly: "Pray."

She prayed for the man who had attacked her. The prayers did not come easily, but at three in the morning, she prayed that he might find relief for his unhappiness—that he might still find a way to be happy. She went to sleep, and when she told me, on Christmas morning, what she had done, I went out to my office and called Fred. "How sweet of you, Tom, to share that story with me on Christmas," he said, sounding, as he always did, exactly like Mister Rogers. "How special." He never told me he was sick, and I never asked. He did, however, inform me that he was still praying for me, for Janet, and for a troubled member of our family whom he had never met. I had no doubt, then, that he was a man whose prayers were answered. I have no doubt that his prayers are answered still.