It’s hard to imagine a more impactful advocate for kindness than Fred Rogers.
His beloved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood revolutionized children’s TV with his neighborly ways, quiet sincerity and life lessons, which live on today in many forms — including the upcoming film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks.
In PEOPLE’s inaugural Kindness Issue, Joanne Rogers, his wife of 50 years, shares some of the ways her husband (who died in 2003) strove to spread kindness.
“People were important to him,” Joanne, 91, says. “He was to me and to the family who he is to everybody else.”
Here, she reflects on just a few of the ways he set the bar for being kind:
Be there when a friend needs you
“If Fred found out a friend was ill, he would make regular calls and visit,” she recalls. “When a high school friend in South Carolina had cancer, Fred went, even though he had hurt his ankle and was on crutches. It was very important to Fred to be there.”
- PEOPLE’s first-ever Kindness Issue is dedicated to highlighting the ways, big and small, that kindness can make a difference and change lives. Click here and pick up the issue, on stands Friday, Nov. 8, for more stories on the impact of kindness from Julia Roberts, Tiffany Haddish and other stars, as well as everyday people practicing kindness in their communities.
Celebrate your big moments
“When the White House called to tell Fred he was getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom [in 2002], the man said, ‘The President would like to give you a very special award, on July 9th,'” says Joanne. “And Fred said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I won’t be able to make it. That’s our 50th wedding anniversary.’ The man said, ‘Wonderful. You’ll all come celebrate here!’ We did, and it was very special.”
Discipline with kindness
“When our sons James [now 59] and John [now 58] would get a little rambunctious, or it was a rainy day and nobody knew what to do, Fred would say, ‘Let’s have a parade!’ He’d go to the piano and play and they’d march around. Music almost always put everyone in a good mood.”
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens in theaters Nov. 22.