The Cokie Roberts I Knew

Sep 21, 2019
Originally published on September 25, 2019 12:17 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, I'd like to add my own few words to the many that have already been said about our friend and colleague Cokie Roberts, who died earlier this week and was celebrated at a funeral Mass today. Of course, I was listening to and watching Cokie long before I got to know her as a colleague. For me, that was at ABC News, and then when I came to NPR. But I want to talk about Cokie because I want to confess I did not always appreciate her.

Of course, I always respected her as a disciplined journalist, a lovely writer, a tough questioner - as a person who got the job done. But it took a while before I saw why so many people loved her. And it took a while before I did, too. I had my reasons. I was young when I first met her, and I think that for me, as for a lot of young people, history began with what I saw in front of me.

Hard to believe, I know, but by the time I got into the field, Cokie and her cohort of pioneers - Lesley Stahl, Judy Woodruff, Carole Simpson, Connie Chung, Barbara Walters, Ann Compton and, of course, NPR's Nina and Linda and Susan - were already there. So while of course I had my own fights, and I still have my own fights, I didn't see their fights. I didn't see what it took for them to win basic respect. Also, I don't think I saw myself in her. Both of her parents had been members of Congress. She literally grew up walking the halls, where I was just trying not to get lost. Her sister was a mayor, her brother a high-powered lawyer.

It seemed like she had always been on the inside, while I was still fighting to find an open door. But while I may not have seen myself in her, how lucky I am that she saw herself in me. I started to see this when I started to hit those cracks in the career sidewalk that seemed to happen to all of us at some point but especially those particular cracks reserved for women.

In her own remembrance, our colleague Nina Totenberg talked about how when she was having a rough time, Cokie would magically appear. She called Cokie the embodiment of our better angels. I like to think of Cokie like Glinda the Good Witch from the "Wizard Of Oz" who would pretend to be setting you on the right path, only to tell you you knew the way all along. Many times over the years when I was attacked for my reporting, a note would show up in my inbox out of the blue saying something like, you were absolutely right to ask that question. You handled yourself perfectly.

When Cokie and I were on the air together in the green room or on the way to the studio, she would gently drop knowledge about everything from why she always walked to the studio instead of taking the elevator to navigating a two career marriage to how to frame a sensitive question. Every so often she would also be sure to drop some little tidbits about certain colleagues, especially, shall we say, certain celebrity male colleagues who had a tendency to treat other people, especially women, as if they were stupid or invisible. In essence, she would be saying, they aren't all powerful. They are not 10 foot tall. Don't let them get to you.

When I came here to NPR, the emails out of the blue continued. Your show was so good. The mix was great. The interview with so-and-so was spot on. Thanks for making us all look good. And again, during the rough times, she would just show up. When the first show I hosted at NPR was canceled, she showed up in the office, although she had no reason to, just to take me to lunch in the cafeteria as a statement of solidarity.

We had lunch just a few months ago. She emailed me again out of the blue just to see how I was doing. She let me pick the place this time, so I picked my favorite divey ramen spot. She liked it so much she said she was going to tell her grandkids about it so they would think she was cool.

Can I just tell you? I'm telling you all this just to say we live in a time when we talk a lot about things like representation and allies and allyship (ph), and those things are important, but Cokie also reminded me that those are new words for old things like empathy and friendship and kindness. She reminded me that just because somebody doesn't look like you or talk like you or come from where you come from, it doesn't mean they can't understand your struggles or try really hard to do so and stand with you.

I'm glad I got to see Cokie. I'm glad I got to know her. Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs Roberts, I appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.