We Are One Together
Fred Rogers For the Children Isaac Romano
By Isaac Romano
February 28, 2003
(Re-printed from the Nelson Daily News, Nelson BC, Canada)
Thursday evening, February 27, 2003 on the 6pm CBC TV news, and then on The National at 10pm and 11pm on CBC TV the commentator reported on the death of Fred Rogers. There was TV footage about Fred Rogers' career and the wonderful person he was. I cried and grieved on hearing each TV report, ...of knowing the amazing man that Fred was and the loss it is to our world.
Though I don't think any TV is truly appropriate for young children, the only program I have ever seen, the only children's TV person who had unflinching respect for young children, knew what to present to them and how to present it was Fred Rogers. His ability to "speak" to children was uncanny! Fred Rogers started on TV on CBC in Toronto in the fifties and then from the sixties on had the TV program, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood on PBS, public television in the US. He retired from his TV program about one and a half years ago, perhaps due to the cancer that killed him.
In 1998, I had the privilege of being invited to a private meeting with Fred Rogers and his producer (producer is Bill Isler of Family Communication, who is a close friend of Fred's and together they studied and received their Master's Degrees in Early Childhood Education from the University of Pittsburgh in the 1960's).
So, how did this meeting between Fred Rogers, Bill Isler and myself come about? It turned out that a colleague and friend of mine Dr. Michael Rothenberg (former director of psychiatry at Children's Hospital in Seattle and nationally known child and family advocate and co-author of the 5th and 6th edition of Dr. Spock's Baby and Childcare book) was a close friend of Fred Rogers, having been a consultant for Fred's TV program for 23 years. Some years ago I asked Michael Rothenberg if he would write a reference letter for me. I was surprised, and delighted when in Michael's reference letter Michael said, "Isaac Romano has a feeling for the developmental and emotional needs of young children and their parents and other caretakers that I have only seen matched by Fred Rogers (Mr. Roger's Neighborhood), with whom I have worked as a consultant for twenty three years."
So in 1998, when Fred Rogers was giving the keynote speech at a early childhood conference of 18,000 early childhood educators (National Associaton for the Education of Young Children -NAEYC) in Toronto, which I was attending and leading workshops at, I contacted Michael Rothenberg, who then contacted Fred Rogers and Bill Isler, leading to the private meeting I had with Fred Rogers and Bill Isler in Toronto in 1998. It was a memorable meeting where Fred and Bill asked me, "How can we support the work you are doing?" I did not expect this question from them and was unprepared to answer them in that moment. Soon after that meeting, I did speak with Bill Isler and presented to him some ways Bill and Fred could support my work in the future. Anyway, ...I have always been moved by Fred Rogers' way with children and his strong, clear, loving, public advocacy for children and parents and a more just and caring society. So on hearing of Fred Rogers' death, I was moved to tears by the love I feel for this remarkable man we have lost, who deeply, thoughtfully, awarely demonstrated care and love for all.
I have a wonderful audio tape I recorded at a NAEYC conference in California I attended in the mid-1990's where Fred Rogers gave the keynote speech to early childhood educators. During this Keynote address, Fred actually started crying as he described with sadness and righteous indignation the conditions that many of our children face.
Fred described the poverty they and their families live with, the neglect, the abuse of children. At this California conference Fred Rogers shared stories of individual children whose lives were so, so incredibly abused, that it was only by watching Fred's program Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and his message about their inherent goodness, that some of these children felt they could go on. Fred befriended some of these children, who's lives were transformed by his committed, life-long friendship with them.
Fred Rogers was truly inspiring with his conference presentation which I recorded that day. His presentation was so moving, it opened our hearts as we heard him speak. Letting us, even in that cavernous, large auditorium feel a connection to him and the stories he revealed. Giving us permission to also feel with him and "let our hearts break together," over such conditions that many children face. This was a profound, healing moment for those of us early childhood educators who heard Fred that day. I will never forget that event, and I will never forget the meeting I had with Fred Rogers in Toronto in 1998. When next we meet on Baker Street in Nelson, I would be happy to share with you a photo I have of Fred Rogers and myself. A warm, friendly photo with our arms around each other.
Fred Rogers and Isaac Romano
(Anaheim, California, USA 1995)