The Untold Truth Of Cokie Roberts

Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who's often credited as a trailblazer for women in the press, passed away from complications of breast cancer at the age of 75. She is survived by her husband and two children.

Roberts, who was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2008, is perhaps best known for helping springboard NPR into the behemoth of public radio it's known as today. She was also a highly revered ABC News commentator who's appeared on various network programs including This Week and Good Morning America. According to Good Morning America, the journalist racked up three Emmy Awards and was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame during her decades-long career; however, her work wasn't where she found the greatest joy. 

Behind the scenes of her pointed political commentary, this longtime print, radio, and television reporter was also a family woman whose life was always closely intertwined with the political world of Washington, D.C. — from her very first memories to the occasional confrontation with Donald Trump. This is the untold truth of Cokie Roberts. 

Cokie Roberts grew up wandering the halls of Congress

As the daughter of two U.S. Representatives, Cokie Roberts' earliest memories were of Congress. She was born and raised around the hallways of the legislative branch, and she ultimately dedicated her life to reporting on it. Roberts' father, Hale Boggs, had a lengthy career in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected as a representative for Louisiana in 1940, and became the House Majority Leader in 1971. He was such a prominent political figure that, according to the House of Representatives archives, it was expected that he'd one day take on the role of speaker of the House. Unfortunately, he passed away before he got the chance.

According to the House's archives, Roberts had a wealth of positive memories from her childhood in Washington, including riding the Senate subway and sitting in its wicker seats, attending the Opening Day of Congress with her father in the late 1940s, and trying to persuade her dad to publicly support the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In many ways, the Capitol always felt like home.

"I still have moments in the Capitol where I will turn a corner, and something will just come rushing back," she said in 2007 (via the House archives). "And I'm 63 years old. And there'll be times when I'll turn a corner and sort of half expect to see my father. So it's a very — a place redolent with memories, to put it mildly."

Cokie Roberts was a pioneer like her mother

Cokie Roberts followed in the footsteps of her mother, Corrinne "Lindy" Boggs, who was a trailblazer for women in Washington, D.C. According to her biography in the U.S. House of Representatives archive, Boggs was the first woman to ever represent Louisiana in the House, but she initially moved to the nation's capitol to serve as chief political adviser for her husband (and Roberts' father), Hale Boggs.

Lindy started her career with roots in journalism, which is ultimately where her daughter also found her calling. The congresswoman was an editor of the Newcomb College of Tulane University newspaper, where she initially met Hale, who served as general editor. They got married before Hale graduated from law school, and Lindy embarked on a career supporting her husband's campaigns and political life while raising her three children.

After Hale's tragic death (more on this in a moment) — and three decades of serving as his "political confidante, strategist, and surrogate campaigner" — Lindy won a special election to fill her husband's empty seat. She ended up serving in the House for 18 years. Armed Services Chairman F. Edward Hebert once called her "the only widow I know who is really qualified — damn qualified — to take over." 

Cokie Roberts' father disappeared in a plane crash

Cokie Roberts' father, Hale Boggs, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for around three decades before his tragic disappearance in October 1972. According to Politico, the Congressman was serving as the House majority leader when his plane disappeared during a campaign trip somewhere between Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska.

Boggs wasn't the only politician on board the ill-fated charter flight. The twin-engine Cessna 310 also carried Rep. Nick Begich, a Democrat from Alaska; Russell Brown, Begich's aide; and Don Jonz, the pilot. At the time, the search and rescue operation was the largest in U.S. history. Politico reported that it involved "40 military aircraft, 50 civilian planes, a search grid of 325,000 square miles, and more than 3,600 hours of search time." Unfortunately, the wreckage wasn't found, and the search was called off after 39 days. Boggs was presumed dead, and Congress subsequently passed a law requiring emergency locator transmitters to be installed in all U.S. civil aircraft.

Boggs' death was subject to a number of conspiracy theories, most of which involve his role with the Warren Commission, which investigated the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He posthumously won reelection, which ultimately triggered his widow, Corrinne "Lindy" Boggs, to run for Congress — and win — in 1973 when his seat was declared vacant.

Cokie Roberts skipped out on a political career for her husband

Cokie Roberts' parents weren't the only ones in the journalist's family with political ambitions. It pretty much became the family trade. According to Good Morning America, Cokie's older brother Thomas, who reportedly coined the nickname Cokie after he couldn't pronounce Corinne, was a lobbyist. Her sister Barbara Boggs Sigmund was the mayor of Princeton, New Jersey. 

In an interview with The Washington Post, Roberts admitted that she's "the only person in [her] original nuclear family who didn't run for Congress", and her mother is the only one who never lost an election. But there's a very good reason that the famed political commentator decided to steer clear of that career path. She didn't want it to interfere with her husband's dream.

"Steve [Roberts] and I met when we were 18 and 19. He was always going to be a journalist from the time he was, like, nine or 10 years old. So, it would have been very hard on him if I had gone into politics," she told The Washington Post. "I have always felt semi-guilty about it. But I've sort of assuaged my guilt by writing about it and feeling like I'm educating people about the government and how to be good voters and good citizens."

Cokie Roberts' husband served as her mentor

Cokie Roberts and her husband Steven Roberts, a former New York Times reporter, were married for 53 years. According to a New York Times profile, the pair met in 1962 at a political event hosted by Ohio State University. At the time, they were both in college — Cokie at Wellesley College and Steven at Harvard. She initially impressed her future husband by speaking at the conference, because, at the time, "it was highly unusual for women to speak." The young students ended up marrying in 1966 after Cokie, who was 22 years old and sick of waiting, told Steven that she'd move to California if he didn't put a ring on it.

Steven remained a major source of support for Cokie throughout their marriage. Though she told the New York Times that she "didn't think [she'd] have a highly successful career" when they tied the knot, Steven ended up serving as her mentor when she first started out. In an oral history project developed by the House of Representatives (via Good Morning America), Cokie admitted, "I had always been a good writer, and so I started reporting and writing. He was a big help to me, and we did a lot together."

Cokie Roberts had a massive backyard wedding

Cokie Roberts and her husband had been together since they were teenagers, and after they decided to tie the knot, the pair threw the most gigantic, low-key wedding imaginable. According to a profile in the New York Times, they skipped out on a church wedding, because they were jumping into an interfaith union. Instead, they wed at Roberts' family home in Bethesda, MD, where the couple still lived as of 2017.

"We had a Jewish Catholic marriage and had to overcome some hurdles," Roberts told the New York Times. "So we married in my backyard instead in a house of worship."

The event had a massive guest list. Roberts claimed 1,500 people showed up, but they didn't actually get anything professionally catered. Her mother ended up cooking "the entire meal" for the massive reception. The Roberts' marriage yielded two children and, subsequently, six grandchildren.

Cokie Roberts was a 'Founding Mother' of National Public Radio

Cokie Roberts is often credited as being a "Founding Mother" of National Public Radio, but according to NPR, she got her start hosting a public affairs show called Meeting of the Minds on the local Washington Station WRC-TV.  

After Meeting of the Minds, Roberts held a number of broadcast jobs, moved to Greece with her husband for his job with the New York Times, and became a foreign correspondent and freelancer for CBS. She only began working with NPR in 1977 — about eight years after it was founded, though it was still virtually unknown.

Roberts became a pioneer for women in broadcast journalism through her work with NPR. According to NPR, she was one of several women who held down a "visible role" there. At the time, journalism was a massively male-dominated field, but women ended up gravitating towards the station because it was a low-paying upstart. According to NPR correspondent Mara Liaisson who spoke to Here & Now, the station "paid so poorly back then, and a lot of times when male reporters got to a certain age or got married, had kids, they would leave for a higher-paying job at a television network." 

Roberts ended up serving as NPR's congressional correspondent for more than a decade, but ultimately left for ABC where she became a political correspondent for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings (pictured above) appeared on Nightline as a fill-in anchor, and co-anchored This Week.

Cokie Roberts was struggling with her health behind-the-scenes

Cokie Roberts struggled with her health behind the scenes before her passing. According to The Washington Post, the ABC pundit was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, which happened to coincide with her departure from The Week, which was a weekly Sunday show co-anchored by Sam Donaldson. She had a successful lumpectomy and made a full recovery after chemo treatments. In the thick of it, the journalist had a marked tenacity, telling WaPo that she didn't expect her diagnosis to have "any major interference with [her] work," and that she still planned to cover the midterm elections for ABC News. Even cancer wasn't enough to make Roberts take a break.

In August 2019, the political commentator raised some concerns about her health following an appearance on This Week, where she was notably thin. Roberts was inundated with concerned messages before she finally opened up about her struggle with unspecified "health issues" that caused her to lose weight. She sought treatment and claimed she was "doing fine." "I very much appreciate the kind comments I have received and expect to be, as I have been, working away in the days and months to come, covering what promises to be a fascinating election," she told Axios in a statement. "I am grateful to everyone who has been in touch and sent their well wishes. Thanks for caring."

Roberts ultimately passed away from breast cancer complications the following month.

President Trump did not get along with Cokie Roberts

President Donald Trump and Cokie Roberts didn't exactly see eye-to-eye. Upon her passing, the former real estate developer had a different opinion on the famed journalist than his predecessors. According to CNN, former President Barack Obama called Roberts "a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men." Former President George W. Bush described Roberts as a "talented, tough, and fair reporter," and even called her "a friend." Here's what Trump had to say:

"I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals," Trump said (via CNN) to a group of journalists traveling with him on Air Force One. "I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot," he continued, adding, "[Roberts] was a real professional. Never treated me well, but I certainly respect her as a professional."

Trump's comments come nearly a year after Cokie penned an essay with her husband for The Meridian Star that stated the president was "bent on destroying the credibility of a free and independent press," and cited a Washington Post report that claimed he had made "5,000 'false and misleading claims'" since taking office. According to The Washington Post, Trump and Roberts also "sparred on live television over the impact of his rhetoric on race" during his 2016 campaign, which resulted in Trump calling the journalist's question "very nasty."

Cokie Roberts was a champion of women's history

Cokie Roberts wasn't just a trailblazer for women in journalism. The writer and commentator sought to tell the unsung stories of the women who shaped history behind the scenes — just like her mom had done by supporting her father's political career and later becoming a Congresswoman to fill his empty seat. 

According to NPR, Roberts authored six books that "examined the role of powerful women in the Civil War era," many of which became best sellers. The most recent prior to her death was Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868. She also authored a children's book called Founding Mothers: Remembering The Ladies in 2004. Roberts' motivation was the fact that these women, who were essential to the foundation of the United States, often disappeared into the background or were completely omitted from history books.

"There are these fabulous murals up on the walls above the Constitution, the Declaration and the Bill of Rights," she told NPR about the National Archives. "And they're all white men in white wigs with tights, and I don't think they're recognizable to a lot of Americans. But they weren't the only people who did it. They were incredibly important — I'm not taking anything away from our Founding Fathers — but they didn't do it alone."

Cancer never changed Cokie Roberts' perspective on life

Cancer didn't change Roberts' perspective on life, and it didn't make her hold her family any closer, but only because that wasn't possible. The journalist always lived for her family first and her career second — even if she told the New York Times that she was "frantic" and "stressed" raising a family while working two jobs. 

In a 2002 interview with The Washington Post, Roberts admitted she "had a healthy perspective on life" prior to her cancer diagnosis and "always cared more about family than [her] career." "I didn't need any extra perspective on life," she admitted, referencing the death of her father and sister, who also died young at the age of 51. In a Facebook Q&A as reported by Good Morning America, Roberts cited that her family was one of the most rewarding aspects of her entire life — not her Emmys or the fact that the Library of Congress named her a "Living Legend." 

"I've been blessed in my life with been [sic] 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," she wrote.