I’ve started reading this wonderful, new biography about Fred Rogers, entitled, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King. In particular, I love a story in this book which I’ve never heard before.
Once, an intern who was working on the Mister Rogers Neighborhood television show traveled with Fred Rogers to Boston. A very influential executive at the Boston public television station had invited them to dinner with the rest of his family. The executive arranged for a limousine to pick up Fred and the intern and bring them both to his home. Once the limousine arrived at the house, the driver asked what time he should return to pick them up again. But instead of sending him away until a later time, Fred Rogers just invited him to the dinner! And the wife of the television executive was completely caught off guard and bewildered by this.
Then after the dinner was over, Fred Rogers sat up front with the limo driver and spent time getting to know him. His name was Billy. After connecting so wonderfully, Billy invited Fred and the intern over to his parents’ house. While there, Fred played the piano and people from the neighborhood kept coming over and joining the spontaneous time together. And Fred and Billy stayed in touch. A few years later, Fred learned that Billy was in the hospital and dying, and he made a personal phone call to say goodbye.
Connection, friendship, and kinship can happen at any time. And I suppose if we want to live in a world where they transform us, we have to be willing to do the unexpected and upend the labels and class structures that divide us.
This story is found on page 39 of The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. It comes from an interview with Elaine Rogers Crozier, Fred Rogers’ sister.