Interviewed by Sondous Attar, The Circle Staff
If you were a child growing up in the 80’s, chances are you know Fran Pappert-Shannon from the hit children’s television series Romper Room. The lovely Fran Pappert-Shannon agreed to be interviewed by the Circle. I was delighted to choose her as my first character exploration as I have heard so many wonderful things about Fran. Here are some of the questions I asked Fran to try to get to know her a little bit better and introduce you the reader to a very interesting member of the Kitchener-Waterloo community.
How did your interest in Islam begin and what was the defining moment that you decided to take another direction, towards Islam?
Before I encountered Islam, I was unsure if there was structure and meaning to existence. The amazing order of nature seemed to suggest that there was a Greater Power, but the disorder of humanity also indicated chaos. However, atheism did not resonate with me, nor did the religions and theories that I studied as an adult. With great respect for the spiritual experiences of others, I personally found no peace, no sense of belonging and no direct relationship with God with other religions. I found all of this with Islam.
I did not seek out Islam; rather, Islam stopped me in my tracks. I had gone through a particularly challenging period in my late forties with the long illness and death of my father, the difficult end of my marriage and the physical and emotional struggles of dealing with cancer. One day, while travelling by the Waterloo Mosque on Erb Street, I stopped in my tracks, filled with the inner certainty that I would be welcome inside. I felt no qualms or hesitations. Within me there was a calm conviction and assurance that the path to the Mosque door was the right path for me. And so I communicated with a Sister who coordinated programs through the mosque, Idrisa Pandit, and she provided me with information, and a large bag full of books, which I devoured with great interest and enthusiasm!
Through the gracious, respectful and welcoming actions of my Muslim Sisters, who warmly invited me to attend a weekly halaqa, I soon came to understand the principle pillars of Islam. I blossomed in the company of these inspiring and intelligent Sisters, and I soon participated in volunteer activities that benefitted the whole community.
Islam was alive, vivid and vital within me. In Islam I discovered a God who is very personal and present, a God who wants a direct relationship with me, without intermediaries, a God who perceives me without original sin. I discovered a God who, the Quran tells me, is closer to me than my jugular vein, who runs to me when I walk toward Him, and who profoundly cares about my existence and my soul.
I comprehended that, in Islam, no one else but me is responsible for my life and actions, and that forgiveness, comprehension and a lightness of being are possible with a God who is All-Compassionate, All-Merciful and The Knower of All.
Complexities became simple. Islam is a profoundly straightforward and clear religion.
The world became a different place for me, and existence was changed forever. All of the learning and reading that I did resonated with an understanding deep inside that for me; Islam is the straight path for being and believing.
I became a Muslim on February 1, 2009 by saying the Shahada at a friend’s house, surrounded by family members and dear friends. It was a wonderful, mystical, beautiful experience.
Tell me about your current job, and what attracted you to it?
My company is called Fran Pappert Proofreading. I offer my own editing and proofreading services to the community, and am pleased to do editing work for authors, small businesses and students, and anyone who needs their document reviewed and revised! I truly love words, and it is a pleasure to assist people with their grammar, spelling, structure, punctuation and content needs.
I have been a professional writer for more than thirty-five years, and feel that I am a very accurate, proficient and affordable editor. And I enjoy interact with my clients, and learn a great deal from the various types of manuscripts that I receive. The public is welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does Islam affect your life post conversion?
I now view the world with Islamic eyes and perceive the hand of Allah in all situations.
I intend for my actions to be for the glory of Allah.
I strive to hear and respond to people with an Islamic perspective. This is a respectful and tolerant outlook that seeks peace, fairness and compassion in all interactions with others.
I dress modestly, covering my arms and legs and refrain from wearing tight clothes. I wear the hijab to glorify Allah, to be in accordance with His wishes, and as a material manifestation of the inner joy and honour that I feel at being a Muslim. I call the hijab my “cloth of honour”!
I eat only halal food and I abstain from alcohol.
In my life, I have always valued volunteerism and social activism and have been proud to be a volunteer for UNICEF and other organizations. Islam’s emphasis on compassion for others has enhanced my interest in volunteerism and the time and energy that I devote to volunteering. And so, I devote at least twelve hours a week to volunteer activities.
Why do you think Romper Room became such a huge success?
Romper Room was a hugely popular children’s television series, and was on the CTV Network across Canada for over twenty years. As “Miss Fran”, I hosted, wrote and helped to produce the series for thirteen years, from 1979 to 1992. I think that Romper Room was successful for many reasons, including that it was fun, had elements of magic, introduced children to Canada and what it meant to be a Canadian child, and was informative as well as entertaining. But I think the chief reason for the show’s popularity was because it was REAL. The children featured each week on Romper Room were real children from the community, and they were not rehearsed, but spoke and acted in an authentic way. In addition, I was real with the children, and I think that kids are very wise and can tell if an adult genuinely likes and respects them. I absolutely loved the children that I interacted with on Romper Room, and being with them was my favourite part of being Miss Fran.
Tell me how your first got involved with Romper Room, and what did you find most challenging about your job?
I was interviewed for the Romper Room host position along with 500 other young women in 1979. I was 23 years old at the time, and working as a library assistant at the Kitchener Public Library’s Forest Heights Branch. After the interview, I was fortunate to be asked back with nine other hopefuls for an audition in the studio at CKCO-TV in Kitchener (now CTV Kitchener). It was very frightening to be standing alone in a TV studio with the cameras and lights on me for the very first time as I was auditioned. But thankfully, I got the job, and received two weeks of training before I was launched on the series as the new host, Miss Fran. I have so many wonderful memories of my Romper Room days! What was most challenging part of my job? Keeping up the pace of hosting six shows in a day when we pre-taped the program! We would tape six shows on a Saturday, and four shows on a Sunday afternoon. It was very high-energy work, but I loved it!
What do you work toward in your free time?
In my free time, I devote many hours a week to the K-W El-Tawhid Juma Circle, of which I am the Coordinator. The K-W El-Tawhid Juma Circle is a wonderful group of Muslims of all genders, together with spiritual seekers, who practice an inclusive form of Islam. Our group members believe in gender equality in principle, practice and prayer. We are affirming of women, and we are also LGBTQ+ affirmative.
We offer a Friday prayer space where diversity and inclusivity are celebrated, and where the inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion or sect, is recognized as Allah-given. Everyone is welcome to participate, and women are particularly encouraged to take a turn in each aspect of our prayer services, including making the call to prayer, giving the khutbah and leading the actual prayer. I am very happy and proud to be a member of this group, and if anyone is interested in learning more about the K-W El-Tawhid Juma Circle, they are welcome to contact me at email@example.com.
What might the reader be surprised to know about you?
The reader might be surprised to know that I have been a vegetarian for thirty-six years! Also, I have a wonderful 23 year-old son who lives in London, England. And I have been a lifelong student of the works of (and works about) T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia.
If you could change one thing about Kitchener-Waterloo, what would it be?
I love K-W, and find it to be a very vibrant, innovative and enjoyable place to live. I would change the number of vegetarian restaurants in town. There are some very good ones, but it would be great to have more variety.
What do you plan to have accomplished in 20 years, personally and professionally?
I do not plan life goals, as I feel that everything is in the hands of Allah. But I do have some hopes and dreams. I hope that I will still be actively involved in strongly supporting gender equality and human rights for all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
I hope that I will be a grandmother! I hope that I will have authored several biographies. And most of all, I hope that I will have spent the time growing closer, in service, to my Creator.
What is the best compliment you have ever received?
My son Wynston has told me that I am a good mother, and that means the world to me! I have also received some wonderful letters from former viewers of Romper Room, who have told me that I provided them with a loving, positive role model, and that I enriched their lives. Those letters have touched me very deeply.
What inspires you?
What inspires me is the courage to stand up and do the right thing, despite negative push back and the ability to continue, in the face of adversity. Many activists inspire me, both past and present, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem and Nelson Mandela. And I am encouraged by all of those who actively celebrate and uphold human rights.