Sara Joanne Rogers, née Byrd, has died at the age of 92, according to Fred Rogers Productions, which announced her passing today on social media. “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,” they tweeted Thursday.
A loving high point of the 2018 Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Joanne, a concert pianist, met Fred while working toward her bachelor’s degree in music at Florida’s Rollins College; she would later go on to earn her master of music from Florida State University and performed frequently with friend and frequent collaborator Jeannine Morrison.
Joanne and Fred Rogers wed in 1952, remaining married until her husband’s death at the age of 74 at 2003. They shared two children, James and John, and an enduring dedication to children’s educational programming. “Joanne was a brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization,” continued Fred Rogers Productions on Twitter. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to Joanne’s family and the thousands of people who had the privilege of knowing and loving her.”
The Jacksonville-born Joanne made her home with Fred in Pittsburgh, where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was produced and filmed by WQED from 1968 to 2001, running for 31 seasons. Said Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto in a statement Thursday, “Through her grace, humor and down-to-earth demeanor, Joanne Rogers personified what we love about the City of Pittsburgh. As the partner of Fred Rogers for a half-century, she helped champion his good works to a global audience, and remained committed to his vision and to this city after his passing. She was always there when we needed her. I and countless others, from every walk of life, were humbled to call her a friend.” Rogers is survived by her sons and three grandchildren.