Her voice is still clear to me. As a child, I’d be driving with my mom, itching to play the music I wanted to hear. Each time my hand would move for the auxiliary cord, my mom would jokingly pull the cord away from me. According to her, I needed a little less “trashy” pop music and a little more Cokie Roberts in my life. Well, she was right. This week the world lost one of the most important voices when Cokie Roberts passed from breast cancer complications.
Mary Martha Corinne Morris Claiborne Boggs, known as Cokie Roberts, was born on December 27th, 1943 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nicknamed Cokie by her brother Tommy, she attended the Academy of Sacred Heart in New Orleans and the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland. After marrying a New York Times correspondent Steven V. Roberts in 1966, the Robertses and their two children lived in New York, Los Angeles, and Europe before eventually settling in Washington D.C. Cokie Roberts came from a political background. Her father, Hale Boggs, won the election for a term in the U.S. House in 1940. He continued to hold a number of political positions until 1972 when his plane disappeared and he was presumed dead. After the death of her father, Cokie’s mother Lindy Boggs succeeded her husband’s position and became an advocate for women’s economic rights before retiring in 1991.
Cokie Roberts began her career as a foreign correspondent in the 1970s for CBS, and shortly after started covering Capitol Hill for BPR in 1978. From there she became the president of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association and went on to author novels including We Are Our Mothers’ Daughter, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation and co-authored From This Day Forward. As one of the Founding Mothers of NPR, also nicknamed the Fallopian Club, she has one of the most recognizable voices in radio, helping to shape the overall sound of public broadcasting.
Cokie officially joined ABC news in 1988 to anchor This Week with Sam Donaldson, just as women were starting to become more common in the broadcasting and newspaper culture. Throughout her career, Roberts won numerous awards and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008.
Having grown up around politics, she projected an educated, thought-provoking voice that was able to communicate facts to her listeners without resorting to confrontation. As remembered by her former co-anchor Sam Donaldson in a recent interview with George Will and Martha Raddatz on This Week “she tamed us, and she changed the business.”
Her love of politics and the American system was evident in her work. During an interview in 2017 with Kentucky Educational Television, Cokie Roberts spoke about her long career.
“It is such a privilege — you have a front seat to history,” she said. “You do get used to it, and you shouldn’t, because it is a very special thing to be able to be in the room … when all kinds of special things are happening” (Cokie Roberts, 2017, Kentucky Educational Television). Cokie’s career was devoted to using her voice to convey information in a way that everyone could understand and in no way limited her listeners.
She is being remembered this week for not only her great reporting skills, but for the kind and passionate person she was. In a recent article from the Washington Post, Kitty Eisele, a former senior supervising editor of NPR’s “Morning Edition, discussed her routine Sunday calls from Cokie in preparation for Monday morning segments. Eisele recalls the exuberant energy that would come through the phone as Cokie had already “been on ABC’s “This Week,” gone to Mass, gathered gossip at both places, hit the Safeway, checked email and the wires, revised a book chapter or a speech, and begun contemplating what to cook for dinner with her husband, Steve” (Kitty Eisele, The Washington Post). “She captivated her audiences and strived to always know what was going on.” noted Eisele.
Former Democratic National Committee chairperson, Donna Brazile, who first met Roberts as a 21-year-old Capitol Hill intern, said, “[n]ot only did she pull that ladder down for young women like myself, but she kept it down.” Brazile notes “Cokie constantly pushed us to be our better selves.”
Similar stories about how Roberts impacted others’ lives as a mentor, colleague, and friend have been shared this week. Her ground-breaking career, love of politics, and passion for making sure people understood not only what happened but why it happened have touched millions. She took pride in her voice traveling throughout the homes of her listeners and into the ears of people, both young and old, that would one day take action in fixing problems as she described them. There is a silence that can no longer be filled, and mornings that fall short compared to the groundbreaking conversations she would begin the days with. Cokie Roberts not only got into the game as a woman in a male-dominated profession and had her voice be heard and respected, but she completely altered it for generations of women to come.
“Cokie was from another Washington” noted her former colleague, George Will. “Washington before constant hysteria.” He added, “It was possible before, and it shall come again, this kind of person who will typify Washington – not the Washington with a snarl on its face – but Washington with her incandescent smile.”
I think of my mom today. Her radio is a bit quieter. But the inspiration to understand all perspectives and reasons behind the stories of our time, and the courage to use our voices to tell those stories, must never be silenced.