Cokie Roberts' husband: Part of her legacy was telling women 'you can do this'
Steven Roberts' new book is "Cokie: A Life Well Lived."
Legendary ABC News journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts has "two legacies," said her husband of more than 50 years.
"The public Cokie and the private Cokie," fellow journalist Steven Roberts said in an interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. "The public Cokie was someone who was such a role model for women … but that was only half of her legacy.”
“The other half … [was her belief that] everybody can be a good person. Everybody can learn something about those private acts of generosity and charity and friendship," he continued. "She lived the gospel every day, and some might say that’s the most important legacy she leaves."
Cokie Roberts was a fixture on national television and radio for more than 40 years. She won countless awards, including three Emmys, throughout her decades-long career. She was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame and was cited by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting. She also wrote five best-selling books focusing on the role of women in American history.
"I had so many people say to me, 'I went to journalism because of Cokie,'" Steven Roberts said. "Countless young women saw her on TV, heard her on radio, and said, 'I can be her, I could be that strong. I could be that smart. I don't want have to hide who I am. I can be myself. I could be a strong independent woman.'"
His book, "Cokie: A Life Well Lived," available Tuesday, is a tribute to his beloved wife after losing her to breast cancer in 2019. It documents their 53-year marriage, her public achievements as well as private life, which he feels was even more inspirational.
Cokie and Steven Roberts met very young while in college. He was 19 and at Harvard. She was 18 and attending Wellesley.
“We were at a student political meeting. I had known her sister. She had known my twin brother," he recalled. "Our dorms back in Boston are only 12 and a half miles apart."
Cokie was the daughter of political scions. Her parents, Hale and Lindy Boggs, both served in Congress, representing the city of New Orleans for a total of almost 50 years.
“The speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, was a frequent dinner guest during her childhood in the 1950s (in the home I still live in), and President and Mrs. Johnson came to our wedding in 1966 (in the garden of that home),” writes Steven Roberts.
He joked that he fell in love with his future mother-in-law first and “eventually got to Cokie.”
She was a staunch Catholic, and he was Jewish. Roberts said it took him three years to propose. He was 23 and she was 22 at the time.
“My mother often said that the first Passover Seder she ever attended was at her Catholic daughter-in-law’s … and there was a joke in the family. She was the best Jew in the family,” he said.
After they got married, Steven Roberts said the couple moved four times over the next 11 years for his job as a New York Times correspondent, and yet, "everywhere we went, [Cokie] worked somehow." She started her career as a radio foreign correspondent for CBS in the 1970s.
“When we lived in Greece … there was a coup in Cyprus. I flew off to Cyprus, but then … the Greek government fell and after seven years of military rule, it was the biggest story in the world that week," he said. "[Cokie] started covering it for CBS... I come back to find I'm married to a veteran foreign correspondent.”
Cokie Robert then joined NPR as a full-time staff journalist, covering Capitol Hill and reporting on the Panama Canal Treaty. She was only 34 years old. In 1987, she was brought in for a onetime trial for ABC News' "This Week’s" roundtable. It was the number one Sunday morning show, but it featured three white men -- Sam Donaldson, George Will and David Brinkley -- and there was pressure on ABC to make the cast more diverse.
Her one-time trial became a weekly appearance and she ultimately earned her chair at the table. Roberts co-anchored ABC’s "This Week" with Donaldson from 1996 to 2002. She also served as polictical commentator, chief congressional analyst and a commentator for "This Week" during her three decades at ABC.
Her husband believes that the real core of her appeal was to other women, who thought, “wait, somebody who thinks like me, somebody talks like me, somebody who sees the world the way I did."
"And that was really the base of her success of ABC,” Roberts said.
He explains that in those days women thought they had to choose between a professional career and having a personal life. Cokie Roberts, with two children, six grandchildren and a long marriage, still managed to have the career she did.
Steven Roberts said she would tell women all the time as she helped them in their navigate the pitfalls and obstacles.
“She said, 'you can do this. It is not possible to have everything all the time, but you can have it most of the time,'” he said.
Cokie Roberts was also, according to her husband, “very tough on men who she felt were dissembling or mistreating women.”
When President George W. Bush nominated former Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, for Secretary of Defense, Sam Donaldson brought up rumors of “womanizing” on the show. Tower turned to Roberts and demanded a definition of the term "womanizing." She quickly retorted in one of the most memorable moments on television, “I think most women know it when they see it Senator.”
Steven Roberts noted that the reaction was “phenomenal,” particularly among women.
Cokie Roberts was also open about her long battle with breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in 2002, but long before then, she had become an advocate for breast cancer research when two of her friends, in their 50s, died of breast cancer in the same week.
“When she was diagnosed herself she knew all about it, and it was a devastating blow," Steven Roberts said. "But she got a lot of good treatment and she lived for 14 years within remission."
In "Cokie," Steven Roberts wrote of his simple goal in honoring his wife.
“To tell stories, some will make you cheer or laugh or cry," he wrote. "And some, I hope, will inspire you to be more like Cokie, to be a good person, to lead a good life.”
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