MARCH 20, 1928-FEB. 27, 2003

By LeVar Burton
Updated December 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Farewell: LeVar Burton pays tribute to Fred Rogers

When I met Fred, it was immediately apparent that the persona I saw on TV was exactly who he was, and I was blown away. Fred was constantly himself, no matter what the circumstance or whom he was with. That’s an incredibly rare thing to encounter.

Kids responded to him because he was genuine. He talked to them, not at them. Kids in today’s TV environment are bombarded with advertising, and Fred didn’t do that. He simply sat there, and what he told them was powerful — that who you are matters, that your feelings count, that you are a unique creation, and that you owe it to yourself to rise to the best you can be.

As host of PBS’ Reading Rainbow, I had occasion to be with Fred once at a White House conference on children’s TV. President Clinton and Vice President Gore and their wives were there, and they had gathered all of the network heads. When Fred spoke, he asked everybody to close their eyes for 60 seconds and think about someone who had helped shape them. Knowing it was a roomful of type-A personalities, Fred said, ”And don’t worry, I’ll watch the clock.” Fred felt it was critical to acknowledge those who have helped us come into being. And Fred’s legacy is that he is that person for so many of us. (Rogers died of stomach cancer in Pittsburgh.)