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He Liked Us

The neighborhood has been closed for a couple of years already. And it's not like we'd visited for a while anyway. Still, there's something sobering about losing a man who was such an integral part of American childhood.

Fred Rogers, formally and affectionately known as Mister Rogers, died early this morning of stomach cancer at the age of 74.

Though we all went through a period when it was hip to mock him, the fact remains that Rogers was a rarity: a caring, sincere person dedicated to his principles who never wavered from them, an understanding friend to children in his show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

``He was so genuinely, genuinely kind, a wonderful person,'' David Newell, who played mailman Mr. McFeely, said. ``His mission was to work with families and children for television. ... That was his passion, his mission, and he did it from day one.''

Rogers wrote and starred in his show from 1968 to 2000, though the final episode did not air until August 2001. Each day, he reinforced his simple message to children, love themselves and others, a message rooted in his deep faith. (Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.)

"We all long to be lovable and capable of loving," Rogers said in an interview. "And whatever we can do through the Neighborhood or anything else to reflect that and to encourage people to be in touch with that, then I think that's our ministry."

In each episode, we also got to visit the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, ruled over by King Friday XIII and inhabited by a variety of puppets, many of which were voiced by Rogers himself.

During the Persian Gulf War, Rogers told youngsters that ``all children shall be well taken care of in this neighborhood and beyond - in times of war and in times of peace,'' and he asked parents to promise their children they would always be safe.

``We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility,'' he said in 1994. ``It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.'

``Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.''

Today, as sabers rattle, rightly or wrongly, the world seems a bit dimmer for the loss of his voice. I'm a fanboy, of course, but I'm also a dad, hoping he can promise his child she will always be safe.

So take a moment today, forget the comedians who mocked the man, forget Kevin Smith's gibes in the Jay and Silent Bob comic book, and remember what he stood for.

And realize we could use a few more like him.

(written with help from The Associated Press report)

Derek McCaw

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