Joanne Rogers, widow of 'Mister Rogers,' dies at 92
Fred Rogers Productions confirmed the news to EW.
"Fred Rogers Productions is deeply saddened by the passing of Joanne Rogers," they said in a statement. "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."
Joanne was married to the host and creator of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, for 50 years until his death in 2003. Since that time, Rogers has been a spokesperson for his legacy, continuing his mission through his production company and forwarding his career through her involvement with projects like the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? and the feature film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
"There are Fred Rogerses out there," Rogers previously told EW, when speaking about her work as an advisor on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. "I'm so grateful, for Fred's sake, because he cared so much about his philosophy. Such special people have come along who feel the way he felt. I find things providential sometimes, and this seems like one of them."
Sara Joanne Byrd Rogers was born March 9, 1928 in, Jacksonville, Florida. She met Fred Rogers when they were both students at Rollins College, where she ultimately earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance.
Rogers was a classically trained pianist, who studied under renowned Hungarian-American composer-pianist, Ernst von Dohnányi. While Fred Rogers pursued a career in television, Joanne completed her Masters of Music at Florida State University and went on to perform professionally with her friend Jeannine R. Morrison as the Rogers-Morrison Piano Duo. They recorded two albums together.
While teaching music, Rogers was also involved in Fred Rogers' first television show The Children's Corner on PBS/WQED. Beloved character Queen Sara on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was named after Joanne and her given first name.
Before her death, she was the chair emerita of Fred Rogers Productions and the Honorary Chair of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children's Media on the Saint Vincent College campus.
Since her husband's death in 2003, she was the steward of his legacy, participating in a PBS special about him and documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, promoting a commemorative postage stamp with his face on it, and playing a key role in the development of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Maryann Plunkett portrayed Joanne in the 2019 film, although the real woman had a cameo during an incredibly moving scene.
After Joanne's death, A Beautiful Day director Marielle Heller shared memories with EW of the woman she had grew close to during production and had remained in contact with as recently as the 2020 presidential election. "She was pure joy," Heller told EW. "You say 'pure' and it's the same thing as what I feel about Fred. People somehow think that means he wasn't real if he was kind. But she was so real, so human, so down-to-earth, so with you."
She is survived by two sons and three grandchildren.