By Denny Patterson
Joanne Rogers, the wife of beloved television host Mr. Fred Rogers, died on January 14, 2021 in Pittsburgh at the age of 92. An accomplished concert pianist, Rogers protected the legacy of her husband and helped spread his message of love and kindness after his death in 2003 from stomach cancer.
Her death was announced by Fred Rogers Productions, which produces children’s programming for public television. No official cause of death was given. The company released a statement saying:
“Fred Rogers Productions is deeply saddened by the passing of Joanne Rogers. 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. 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.”
Born Sara Joanne Bryd in 1928, she met her future husband at Rollins College in Florida, and they later married in 1952. Friends say their marriage was just as loving and supportive as it looked. “They had their own language, so to speak,” said Bill Isler, president emeritus of Fred Rogers Productions. “You would be with them and they would have sayings all the time that they had from the time they were young.” After Fred’s passing, she helped develop the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Rogers was a supportive force behind her husband, who in 1968 began his critically acclaimed preschool television series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show ran for 33 successful years and was praised for focusing on children’s emotional and physical concerns, such as death, racism, divorce, sibling rivalry, and war. The program ended in 2001.
She appeared on the show a couple times, but became more of a public presence over the last three years of her life. She vigorously promoted Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), Morgan Neville’s documentary about her husband, and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Marielle Heller’s feature film starring Tom Hanks and Maryann Plunkett.
In an interview with ABC News program Nightline, Rogers said her husband would have been thrilled with Hanks portraying him. “He was a huge Tom Hanks fan,” she said. “He saw Forrest Gump about 40 times. He said he saw something different every time.”
In 2019, Rogers received the George Romero Legacy Award at Steeltown Entertainment’s 2019 Elly Awards.
Rogers is survived by two sons, James Byrd Rogers and John Rogers, and three grandsons.