“It’s you I like.”
“We can sing together.”
“Please won’t you be my neighbor?”
These are the words of Fred McFeely Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. There are so many skillfully concise phrases that this wonderful man coined. Kindness, tolerance and togetherness were common themes of his long-standing PBS show (31 seasons to be exact). Rogers educated through his welcoming demeanor, his eloquence, his careful pace that catered to children. He always encouraged curiosity, sharing and reflection.
And March 20th is a great time to reflect. Why? Well, because it’s Fred Rogers’ birthday, which is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day! Some people will wear sweaters to celebrate his memory. Some people will just be themselves, make a point to listen better to others or teach by example. Overall, it’s just about being a bit “Freddish,” which is how Kevin Morrison, the Fred Rogers Company’s Chief Operating Officer, refers to the organization’s instructional approach.
If I was to reflect on the great Fred Rogers, I wouldn’t be able to share a special story about meeting him in person. I was never that lucky. Of course, along with so many other children over the years, I felt like I knew him because of what I saw on television. However, I was fortunate enough to meet one of his neighbors, so to speak.
In 2006, it was my second year at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a journalism major, I was enrolled in a public relations course to bolster my skills. I had a great professor that truly cared about the craft, and he wanted to share a local gem with us. So he invited David Newell to class—the Mr. McFeely from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Newell’s official title was actually “Director of Public Relations” for Family Communications, Inc. at the time, making him an excellent candidate to speak to our PR class. And while he’d never intended to be on any TV show when he started with the company, Rogers insisted, and the “speedy delivery” mail carrier became a regular on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the entire room of college students (only about 25 or 30) was probably more intrigued by the acting angle, but I digress.
Really, I don’t remember too much about Newell’s visit to our class. He shared some insightful ideas concerning his career, and what ours might hold in the future. However, to this day, nothing stuck with me more than what happened next. When Newell was done talking, I remember nobody leaving.
You see, Mr. McFeely was going to sign autographs. Some people might say, “Yeah, so what? Who cares?” He was a gray-haired gentleman (now in his 60s) who once wore a short-brimmed hat on a children’s program. But he was much more than that to all the people around me. So an entire classroom of 20-somethings waited in line—for just a brief handshake and a signed headshot—from what seemed to be a living, breathing childhood memory.
I like to think that David Newell/Mr. McFeely was our neighbor. We all saw him on TV when we were growing up. He delivered the mail to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and I guess was some sort of window to our past. Nostalgia, personified, spreading the educational merits of an old TV show.
The pen marks have already faded quite a bit. I’m not sure how long this memento will last. It reads “To Matthew, from Mr. McFeely” at the top. As you can see, the rest is far more legible. I bragged all day to my college-aged friends about this unexpected speaker. And almost 10 years later, I’m still telling the tale, still sharing that beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Everybody, have a great “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day this March 20th!
And here’s a few great songs to celebrate: