Joanne Rogers, widow of ‘Mister Rogers,’ dead at 92

Joanne Byrd Rogers, the widow of beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers, died Thursday. She was 92.

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Sara Joanne Byrd earned a master’s degree in music for the piano from Florida State University in 1952, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. She met Fred McFeely Rogers when both were attending Rollins College in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Winter Park, WPXI reported.

They were married in New York City in 1952 and moved to Pittsburgh in 1953, when Fred Rogers joined WQED and hosted “The Children’s Corner,” according to WPXI.

Fred Rogers created “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” in 1968, and the children’s show ran for 33 years.

The couple was married for 50 years until Fred Rogers died on Feb. 27, 2003, of stomach cancer. He was 74.

Joanne Rogers was born March 9, 1928, in Jacksonville, Florida, the daughter of Ebra Edwards Byrd and Wyatt Adolphus Byrd, who was a teacher, salesman and a postal worker, according to The Baltimore Sun. She graduated from Landon High School in 1946 and then attended Rollins College.

In the fall of 1948, Joanne Rogers heard there was a music composition major named Fred Rogers transferring to Rollins from Dartmouth College. She was one of several students told to show him around.

“I must say, we were just good friends,” Joanne Rogers told the Sun. “We didn’t do much dating, as such. We all ran around in a group. ... But I think we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company, and he was a marvelous dancer, a fabulous dancer! So I would ask him to our sorority dances, and he would ask me to his fraternity dances.”

Joanne Rogers left Rollins for Florida State to study with Hungarian-American composer-pianist Ernst von Dohnanyi, the Sun reported. Fred Rogers graduated and went to New York for an apprenticeship at NBC.

The pair kept in touch by mail, and one day Joanne Rogers received a letter that asked, “Will you marry me?”

Joanne Rogers stopped what she was doing, found a pay phone and called to accept, the Sun reported. She does not remember his response.

“I have no remembrance of it,” she laughed. “{None at all!”

Fred Rogers Productions released a statement on the death of Joanne Rogers, noting the organization was “deeply saddened.”

“The loving partner of Fred Rogers for more than 50 years, she continued their shared commitment to supporting children and families after his death as chair of the board of Fred Rogers Productions,” the organization said. “Joanne was a brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Joanne’s family and the thousands of people who had the privilege of knowing and loving her.”

The couple was married for 50 years until Fred Rogers died on Feb. 27, 2003, of stomach cancer. He was 74.

Following her husband’s death, Joanne Rogers continued to honor his legacy in Pittsburgh and around the world.

In 2018, Maxwell King’s biography, “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers,” was published, the same year that filmmaker Morgan Neville’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” was released, the Democrat reported.

“We all felt very good about it,” Joanne Rogers told the newspaper in November 2019. “I just feel so grateful for Fred. I think it is a wonderful tribute to him, both the film and the documentary.”

In 2019, Joanne Rogers celebrated the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which was based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, WPXI reported. Junod was the author of the article, “Can You Say ... Hero?”

Joanne Rogers leaves behind two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, the television station reported.

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