There's a cartoon where a jowly chairman of the board stands before his cohorts, pounding the table.

"People are demanding authenticity," he says. "They want authenticity, give 'em authenticity."

Everything these days seems to be calculated. As one wag said of Hollywood, "You need to scrape away all the phony tinsel to get to the real tinsel underneath."

In Bolivia, the native women never changed dresses, they just kept layering on new dresses. So with modern society. If what we are isn't working, we simply layer on something new.

In such a world, any person who means what he says and says what he means is more than a breath of fresh air. He's a gem.

And every day I see new evidence that Fred Rogers of "Neighborhood" fame was a gem.

Rogers died in 2003 at age 74. At the time, loving eulogies poured out, as you'd expect. "He was so genuinely, genuinely kind," said David "Mr. McFeely" Newell.

But as the years roll by, Mister Rogers' light has not dimmed but has gained in wattage.

I have a friend, a Christian songwriter, who was on a dinner program with Rogers not long before Rogers passed away. My friend sang a couple of original numbers, then Rogers stepped to the mike. He quoted a couple of lines from one of my friend's songs and, without notes, spoke for 20 minutes about those lines — expanding on them, enhancing them with his own personal experience and sharing his hard-won, soft-hearted wisdom.

Later, as my friend and Rogers were talking, a little boy came up behind them. Rogers turned around.

"Excuse me a minute," he said to my friend, "somebody wants to talk with me."

My friend said the man in the famous sweater would have acted the same way if it had been the queen of England waiting to talk with him.

Rogers never had a special "song and dance" for the kiddies.

There was no pandering or condescension — no phony-baloney performance.

Since his death, books have come out about the man. One of my favorites was written by Tim Madigan, a journalist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It's called "I'm Proud of You." Madigan tells how a routine celebrity interview with Rogers slowly evolved into a warm friendship. As Madigan struggled with personal problems (what Rogers called his "furies"), he was not only helped along, but rescued by Mister Rogers.

In one letter to Madigan, Rogers wrote: "I'm fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. You write of 'powerlessness.' Join the club, we are not in control. God is."

Toward the end of his life, Rogers was interviewed by another journalist about worthwhile contributions to society. He thought a moment.

"I feel the greatest gift we can give to anybody," he said, "is the gift of our honest self."

I'm proud of you, Mister Rogers.

May your good life and good works continue to have sway in a Tinseltown world.


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