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Joanne Rogers, wife of Fred Rogers of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,' dies at 92

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/15/2021 Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
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Joanne Rogers, the widow of Fred Rogers of TV's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and an accomplished pianist, died Thursday. She was 92.

The news was confirmed by Fred Rogers Productions in a statement posted on the company's official Instagram account Thursday that said the company was "deeply saddened by the passing." No cause of death was given.

The statement praised Joanne Rogers for continuing her husband's work as the chair of Fred Rogers Productions after Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003.The couple were married for more than 50 years, and Joanne Rogers continued to act as a surrogate for her husband's unique brand of kindness and compassion.

Fred Rogers holding a sign posing for the camera: Fred Rogers' wife, Joanne, stands in front of a giant Mister Rogers Forever Stamp following the day-of-issue dedication in WQED's Fred Rogers Studio in Pittsburgh. © GENE J. PUSKAR/AP Fred Rogers' wife, Joanne, stands in front of a giant Mister Rogers Forever Stamp following the day-of-issue dedication in WQED's Fred Rogers Studio in Pittsburgh.

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"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 statement said.

5 beautiful things: We learn about Mister Rogers from new biography, 'The Good Neighbor'

The official Twitter account for the state of Pennsylvania hailed the passing of the Pittsburgh-based icon.

"RIP Joanne Rogers. Thank you for all of the kindness you brought to our commonwealth," the tweet said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto marked the "grace, humor and down-to-Earth demeanor" of Joanne Rogers in a Twitter tribute. 

"She was always there when we needed her. I and countless others, from every walk of life, were humbled to call her friend," he wrote.

Born Sara Joanne Byrd in Jacksonville, Fla. on March 9, 1928, she started playing piano at age 5 and earned a scholarship from Rollins College to study piano performance. Courted by classmate Fred Rogers, just 11 days her senior, he proposed by letter at age 24 from New York City where he was beginning his television career, she told the Today Show in 2018.

Fred and Joanne Rogers married on June 9, 1952 and had two sons, James and John. 

Rogers was involved with Fred Rogers' first show PBS Show "The Children’s Corner" in Pittsburgh. As he hosted "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on PBS stations from 1968 to 2001, Joanne Rogers taught at Chatham College’s Preparatory School and taught music at Carlow College in the 1970s. 

She continued piano playing most of her life, often performing with her lifelong friend and pianist Jeannine Morrison. The duo ended up recording two albums: "Duo - Piano Favorites" and "A Virtuoso Duo-Piano Showcase."

Rogers consulted on the 2018 documentary of her husband's life, "Won’t You Be My Neighbor?" and was portrayed by Maryann Plunkett in the 2019 drama "A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood." She made a cameo appearance as a patron in a Chinese restaurant that the couple frequented.

Rogers approved of the casting for Tom Hanks as her late husband in the drama, telling The New York Times in 2019, "I was amazed they could get him. When they said, 'Oh, we have Tom Hanks,' I said, 'You are kidding?' I couldn’t think of anyone better."

In one of her last interviews, Rogers, living alone in a Pittsburgh apartment, talked about dealing with the coronavirus, to the Los Angeles Times.

"I am an optimist, essentially. But this is the hardest trial I’ve had as an optimist," she said, adding that her husband would have pointed out the societal "helpers" in troubled times.

"When Fred was a boy and scary things would happen to him, his mother used to tell him, 'Freddy, look for the helpers.' So he would have talked about the helpers."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joanne Rogers, wife of Fred Rogers of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,' dies at 92

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