I was scouring my usual sources for a few good people to write about today and I did find some, but they will have to wait until next week’s post, for during my search something popped up on my radar and by the time I finished reading it, I had tears and knew this would be my good people story this week.
We all knew that Fred Rogers, star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was a good guy. But this one story shows just how good, just how caring an individual he was.
It all started in early 1987 when …
A mother called into PBS, asking if Mr. Rogers could send an autograph to her daughter. She was suffering from seizures and set to have brain surgery. When Fred Rogers heard about it, he flew to see her in the hospital rather than merely sending an autograph.
When Beth Usher was in kindergarten she had her first seizure. Doctors couldn’t find the problem and sent Beth home.
A few days later, Beth had another seizure. Then another. And another. Eventually, she had around 100 seizures a day. She was diagnosed with Rasmussen’s encephalitis, a rare inflammatory neurological disease that only affects one hemisphere of the brain.
Miraculously, during the 30 minutes when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired, Beth never had a seizure.
“I found his voice comforting. I felt like he was talking to me and nobody else.”
Before surgery that involved removing parts of Beth’s brain affected by the disease, her mother Kathy reached out to the Mister Rogers Neighborhood studio and spoke with the secretary, explaining the situation and asking if she could get a signed copy of Mr. Rogers’ picture for Beth. Less than an hour later, the secretary called back with a special message.
“Will you be home this evening at 7? Fred would like to call and speak with Beth,” the secretary told Kathy. “He called, and I said to Beth, ‘Beth… there’s a friend on the phone for you.'”
Beth spent over an hour on the phone with Mr. Rogers.
“I told him things I hadn’t told my mom or dad. I told him about the surgery and how I thought I might die. It was like talking to an old friend.”
On February 4, 1987, Beth underwent a 12-hour procedure to remove the left hemisphere of her brain. Initially after surgery, she was fine. But things took an unexpected turn, and she slipped into a coma.
“Mr. Rogers would call the hospital every day to check up on me. When he found out I wasn’t improving, he decided to make a trip.”
Beth’s family and nurses stood in the doorway watching as Rogers removed his puppets from his case.
“He gave Beth her own private show,” said Beth’s mother.
Shortly after Mr. Rogers visit, Beth did wake, surrounded by friends.
When Mr. Rogers called that day, Kathy told him the good news.
“He said, ‘Praise God’.”
Mr. Rogers and Beth’s friendship continued through the years. He always called Beth on her birthday until his death in 2003.
In this age where it seems that people think it is ‘cool’ to curse and act stupid on television, Mr. Rogers was the gold standard for children’s television. So much so that the story goes that his car was once stolen, but when the thieves saw the news coverage, they promptly returned the car with a note reading, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”
Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, and one year later, after Rogers passed away at the age of 74, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution to commemorate his life. It read, in part …
“Through his spirituality and placid nature, Mr. Rogers was able to reach out to our nation’s children and encourage each of them to understand the important role they play in their communities and as part of their families. More importantly, he did not shy away from dealing with difficult issues of death and divorce but rather encouraged children to express their emotions in a healthy, constructive manner, often providing a simple answer to life’s hardships.”
Who knows how many lives he touched in such a positive way that those people grew into ‘good people’ themselves? So, although I’m ‘a day late and dollar short’ as my grandpa used to say, I say Mr. Rogers deserves to be our ‘good people’ for this week!