Joanne Rogers, Widow of Fred Rogers and Classical Pianist, Dies at 92

Before her death, Joanne Rogers strove to spread kindness like her husband

Joanne and Fred Rogers
Photo: Fred Rogers Productions

Joanne Rogers, the widow of TV icon Fred Rogers, has died. She was 92.

"Fred Rogers Productions is deeply saddened by the passing of Joanne Rogers," the non-profit organization said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "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," the statement continued. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to Joanne's family and the thousands of people who had the privilege of knowing and loving her."

Joanne and Fred Rogers were married for 50 years before his death in 2003 from stomach cancer at 74.

Joanne Rogers
Frederick M. Brown/Getty

After his death, Joanne became one of her husband's primary stewards of his legacy, including a 2019 film starring Tom Hanks as her husband, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which she helped promote.

In November 2019, Joanne reflected on her husband's impact and how he revolutionized children's TV with his beloved show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

"People were important to him," Joanne told PEOPLE at the time. "He was to me and to the family who he is to everybody else."

"If Fred found out a friend was ill, he would make regular calls and visit," she recalled. "When a high school friend in South Carolina had cancer, Fred went, even though he had hurt his ankle and was on crutches. It was very important to Fred to be there."

Joanne was born as Sara Joanne Byrd in Jacksonville, Florida in 1928. She learned to play the piano at the age of five when a friend introduced her to a piano instructor, she said during a TEDxPittsburghWomen interview in 2019.

Fred and Joanne Rogers

She earned a scholarship to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida where she met Fred, a Dartmouth College graduate, and her close friend, the classical pianist Jeannine Morrison.

Joanne and Fred bonded over their love of music, saying during the TED discussion, "Fred was a really really fine musician. It was part of him. It was maybe the most important part of him, was his music."

She added, "Music meant a lot to both of us, we had that in common and we talked often of, 'How do people live without music?'"

Joanne married Fred in 1952 and the couple had two sons, James Byrd Rogers and John Rogers.

She told PEOPLE her husband extended his life lessons from the TV screen to their own home life.

"When our sons James and John would get a little rambunctious, or it was a rainy day and nobody knew what to do, Fred would say, 'Let's have a parade!'" Joanne said. "He'd go to the piano and play and they'd march around. Music almost always put everyone in a good mood."

Joanne Rogers
Fred Rogers Productions

Before her death, Joanne traveled for decades across the country as a classically trained concert pianist, according to The New York Times. In the early 1970s, Joanne performed as a duo with Morrison, telling the Times, "Over the next 36 years we played over 300 concerts."

The close friends ended up recording their duets, releasing two albums: "Duo - Piano Favorites" and "A Virtuoso Duo-Piano Showcase."

Later in life, Joanne quit performing in part due to her arthritis, her son John told the publication. She would often enjoy performances by her friends Emmanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma.

Her older son, Jim, told the newspaper, "She was always able to be Joanne Rogers as opposed to Mrs. Fred Rogers. She has always been her own person."

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