Won’t you be my neighbor?
There may not be a more universally beloved television star than the late Fred Rogers – known better as Mister Rogers, who invited viewers into his “Neighborhood” from 1968-2001.
And on March 24, Ruth’s Place in Granbury will welcome Tim Madigan, a man who forged a deep friendship with Rogers in the late 1990s, to speak at the Lake Granbury Conference Center at 621 E Pearl Street about the lessons he learned through the pair’s correspondence.
Madigan first met Rogers as part of an interview for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where Madigan was a general assignment reporter working on features and longer profiles and investigations. A Minnesota native, Madigan began at the Star-Telegram in 1984.
In the fall of 1995, he was working on a story about violence on television and the impact it had on kids. A colleague suggested that he interview two TV stars: Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers.
“I made the necessary arrangements and talked to both of them on the same day that fall,” Madigan said. “The conversation with Fred went well enough that I was invited to Pittsburgh (Rogers’ hometown) to spend four days with him and do a profile on Fred himself.”
The pair hit it off, and from that point on began corresponding and talking until Rogers’ death in 2003.
“I considered him to be one of my best friends,” Madigan said.
Madigan had enough stories to fill a book about his friendship with Rogers. “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship With Fred Rogers” was published in 2006 and remains in print today.
THE REAL DEAL
There are stories to be found everywhere you look about Rogers’ kindness and generosity. Two movies about his life, a documentary and a biopic, came out in the last two years.
But unlike so many other stars of pop culture, what you heard about Rogers was true, Madigan said.
“I came to realize that he was one of our civilization’s great human beings,” Madigan said. “He was who he appeared to be on television.
“He wasn’t playing a role, he was being himself. He was extraordinarily kind and gentle and wise.”
Madigan was one of the lucky ones that had a friendship with Rogers as adults rather than seeing him on screen in a program aimed at children. In those one-on-one settings, Rogers’ gifts stood out even more.
“When you got to experience him and his friendship in an adult context, that’s when he really demonstrated himself to be someone quite unique and historic,” Madigan said. “The foundation of his human greatness, I believe, was his ability to be present with people.
“When he was with you, he was with you. You were the only person in his universe.”
Rogers focused on people’s “essential invisibles,” a term he borrowed from the novel “The Little Prince.”
“He had a very gentle but persistent way of trying to get you to share things with him that you probably in a different context would want to keep hidden,” Madigan said. “He really wanted to know the truth of your life and what was going on.”
The focus of Madigan’s lecture will center on the friendship between him and Rogers.
“When I met him coincided with a difficult time in my life,” Madigan said. “He mentored me through that time and some personal tragedies I went through.
“So it’s just the experience of walking through life’s difficult times with someone like that.”
Rogers, Madigan said, believed that everyone in life went through challenges and that we shouldn’t hide those challenges.
“He had this understanding of how challenging life can be for almost every human being,” Madigan said. “We typically want to cover that up when we’re with other people because we’re afraid that if people find out how messed up we are inside they really wouldn’t like us.
“Fred’s theory was that it was just that kind of thing that we had most in common with other people, so there’s really no need to isolate it or keep it to yourself. That’s the human condition.”
For tickets and information on how to see Madigan, visit www.ruthsplaceclinic. org or call 817-573-6800.
WHERE: Lake Granbury Conference Center, 621 E Pearl Street, Granbury
WHEN: Tuesday, March 24 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
WHAT: Stories and lessons learned from a friendship with Fred Rogers
HOW TO ATTEND: Visit www.ruthsplaceclinic.org or call 817-573-6800 for questions.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 817-573-7066, ext. 254