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Opinion: Remembering Cokie Roberts

Cokie Roberts makes a speech at the Buell Theatre in Denver.
Hyoung Chang
Denver Post via Getty Images
Cokie Roberts makes a speech at the Buell Theatre in Denver.

Cokie Roberts was fierce and funny, hard-nosed and kindhearted. She was steeped in politics, as the daughter of two Louisiana pols, Hale and Lindy Boggs, and enjoyed the game. But she also elevated politics with her elegant reporting.

Cokie wasn't fooled by the blather of politicians, but also wasn't smug about journalism. We covered a few primaries and papal trips together, and Cokie used to caution young reporters with preconceptions, "Stories are so simple until you actually cover them."

It may be hard for many to understand today how great female reporters used to often be assigned just to cover flower shows, dog pageants and recipes.

But Cokie Roberts covered the U.S. Congress for a fledgling NPR, while Linda Wertheimer reported on politics, and Nina Totenberg covered the nation's highest court. Susan Stamberg gave NPR a distinctive voice: astute and warm, not sonorous. They've been called NPR's "Founding Mothers" who brought the voices of women into the news and made NPR into a fixture of American life. There are women with vital jobs all over America today who came of age hearing Cokie and those other voices.

But in a profession that can consume people, Cokie Roberts stayed herself. She had a genius for friendship. She wrote notes and made calls. She brought food and books to friends when they were sick, or sad. She remembered birthdays and wrote job recommendations. She laughed — she cackled — at all kinds of jokes.

Cokie once called a hospital when she heard I'd been brought in with typhoid fever, contracted while covering a war, and demanded to speak to the chief physician. He found me in the emergency room and said, with astonishment, "You know Cokie Roberts? She called to tell me to take care of you." My hospital food improved immediately.

Our mothers died within days of each other a few summers ago. Both of our mothers had taught us the importance of writing notes, so Cokie and I sent emails that crossed at almost the same instant.

"We both woke up this morning without a mother," said Cokie. "But two classy gals will be friends up there."

She told people — she certainly told me, and she exemplified it — to make time in your life and space in your heart for family, friendships and faith. Cokie blazed a trail in this business, and a trail of friendship in so many lives.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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