Roberts was a pioneer for women in broadcast news and political journalism.

By Rebecca Angel Baer
September 17, 2019
The Washington Post / Contributor/Getty Images

Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts died Tuesday, September 17 due to complications from breast cancer at the age of 75.

Roberts was a fixture behind a TV news anchor desk for nearly half a century and one of America's most trusted political voices. Not only was she an inspiration to many, she was a pioneer for women in journalism.

Born Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1943, got her nickname, Cokie, from her brother because he couldn't say "Corinne," ABC News reports. The nickname stuck.

She was the daughter of Hale Boggs, a former House majority leader from Louisiana and Lindy Boggs, who went on to succeed Hale in his office. You might say that politics ran in Robert's blood. But she didn't run for office. Instead, she became one of the country's most renowned political journalists and a constant presence on the election trail for decades.

After graduating from Wellesley College in 1964 with a political science degree, Roberts landed jobs with local news outlets WNEW and KNBC, and then became a foreign correspondent for CBS Radio.

Roberts then joined a fledgling NPR in 1978. The radio network described her as, "one of a handful of pioneering female journalists — along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg — who helped shape the public broadcaster's sound and culture at a time when few women held prominent roles in journalism."

Cohost of NPR's Morning Edition Rachel Martin tweeted, "We are heartbroken. A legend has passed. When I was in high school, I wanted to grow up to be Cokie Roberts. I worked w/her at ABC & NPR. She could intuit whenever I needed a kind word, a nudge that I was doing good work and it made a difference. We will miss her so very much."

In 1988, Roberts joined the ranks of ABC News where she remained a fixture of the network's news and political coverage even through her cancer battle. Roberts anchored ABC's This Week, the network's weekly political round table program, alongside Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002. She remained a contributor to the program after her stint as anchor was over and even appeared on the show just last month. Roberts leaves her ABC colleagues in deep mourning. During live coverage to announce her passing, Martha Raddatz recalled something another ABC News anchor, George Stephanopoulos, said about Roberts: "She knew it all but was never a know-it-all."

As news of her passing broke, former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush issued a statement on Twitter saying, "We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us. She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her driver and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heart broken. We send our sincere sympathies."

President Obama also issued a statement, noting her impact on women following in her footsteps. "Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way. She will be missed—and we send our condolences to her family."

Roberts was able to ask the tough questions and get answers because she earned the respect of all who encountered her. As many have pointed out, whether it was a peer or interview subject, she took the time to ask how their families were doing. A simple, but impactful gesture. Jonathan Karl, ABC's Chief White House correspondent, recalled to his colleagues that Roberts had taken his daughter out to lunch just last week. He also took to social media to express his grief and gratitude to his friend.

Another ABC News coworker remembered not only her kindness but her devote Catholic faith. Terry Moran said, "She walked the walk of the Gospels," as he shared on air how she helped him when he went through a hard time in his spiritual life. He went onto say, "she is not only a national treasure; she is one of the greatest human beings I have ever known and I am not the only person who would say that."

Roberts was also the best-selling author of several books that mostly focused on the role of women in American history. As a pioneer in her own field, Roberts championed and honored other women who had done the same kind of path paving.

When asked in a Facebook Q&A in 2013, as reported by ABC News, what was the best part of her career, Roberts offered this lesson in priorities:

"I've been blessed in my life with a long and happy marriage that produced two wonderful children who have in turn each produced three spectacular grandchildren and that is by far the best part. In terms of career, I've been lucky to have many interesting jobs and loved most of them."

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Cokie Roberts leaves behind her husband of 53 years, Steve Roberts; their two children Lee Roberts and Rebecca Roberts; and her six grandchildren. Our deepest condolences to the Roberts family.