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Journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts dies at 75

Updated: September 17, 2019 02:31 PM

Renowned ABC News journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts has died at the age of 75.

Roberts won countless awards, including three Emmys, throughout her decades-long career. She has been 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 was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2008.

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"We will miss Cokie beyond measure, both for her contributions and for her love and kindness," her family said in a statement.

Roberts, born Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, said she got the name "Cokie" from her older brother, who couldn't pronounce Corinne and dubbed her Cokie instead. The name stuck with her ever since.

"Cokie Roberts will be dearly missed," said James Goldston, president of ABC News. "Cokie's kindness, generosity, sharp intellect and thoughtful take on the big issues of the day made ABC a better place and all of us better journalists."

Roberts was "a true pioneer for women in journalism," Goldston said, "well-regarded for her insightful analysis of politics and policy in Washington, D.C., countless newsmaking interviews, and, notably, her unwavering support for generations of young women — and men — who would follow in her footsteps."

She is survived by her husband, fellow journalist Steven Roberts, her children, Lee and Rebecca and her six grandchildren.

Roberts graduated from Wellesley College in 1964 with a degree in political science and began her career in radio as a foreign correspondent for CBS in the 1970s and started covering Capitol Hill for National Public Radio in 1978, reporting on the Panama Canal Treaty.

She was assigned to Capitol Hill full-time in the early 1980s, serving as the network's congressional correspondent for more than a decade.

Roberts co-anchored ABC's "This Week" with Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002. She also served as political commentator, chief congressional analyst and a commentator for "This Week" during her three decades at ABC.

Before joining ABC News in 1988, Roberts spent more than two decades at outlets including WNEW (1968), KNBC-TV (1974-77), CBS News (1974-1977) and NPR starting in 1978. She was also a correspondent for MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour and a contributing senior news analyst for PBS.

Additionally, she wrote eight books, largely focusing on the role of women in American history, many of which were New York Times bestsellers.

She had recently acknowledged a struggle with her health.

"Over the summer, I have had some health issues which required treatment that caused weight loss. I am doing fine," she said in a statement after the "This Week" appearance. "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. I am grateful to everyone who has been in touch and sent their well wishes. Thanks for caring."

Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and was successfully treated. When she was diagnosed, she spoke about her longtime work urging women to get regular mammograms.

"Fortunately, in the course of my efforts to inform others about the disease, I learned about the benefits of early detection," she said in a statement at the time, The Washington Post reported. "Now I am the beneficiary of that information."

She told the Post that her cancer diagnosis didn't give her a newfound perspective on life, because she already had one.

"I had a healthy perspective on life already," she said to The Washington Post. "I have always cared more about family than my career. I lost my father at age 58 in a terrible accident and I lost my sister at age 51. So I didn't need any extra perspective on life."

During a Facebook Q&A in 2013, when asked what was the best part of her career, she said that her family has been "by far the best part" of her life.

"I've been blessed in my life with been 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. The ability to develop expertise and then be able to use that knowledge in broadcasting is gratifying. And I find writing books particularly satisfying," she wrote in her response to the Facebook question.

Roberts came from a political family: she was the daughter of (Thomas) Hale Boggs, the former Democratic House majority leader and representative from New Orleans. Her father was also a member of the Warren commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Hale Boggs died in a plane crash in Alaska in 1972, and his wife – Roberts' mother – Lindy Boggs was elected to fill her late husband's congressional seat.

Lindy Boggs was later appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See by then-President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Roberts' siblings also took a liking to politics. Her older brother, Thomas Boggs Jr., was a lobbyist and her sister Barbara Boggs Sigmund was the former mayor of Princeton, New Jersey. Her younger brother, William, died as an infant, and her other two siblings have died as well.

In an interview earlier this year, Roberts noted that she was "the only person in my original nuclear family who didn't run for Congress. Now, they didn't win all of them – the only one that never lost an election was my mother."

But she filled that void with her foray into journalism.

"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," she told The Washington Post.

Roberts married journalist Steve Roberts in 1966, after meeting at a political event in Ohio four years earlier when they were both in college.

Steven Roberts worked as a reporter at The New York Times for many years, and in a 2017 interview, Cokie Roberts credited her husband as being "my mentor when I started off as a journalist."

"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," she said for an oral history project developed by the House of Representatives.

Steve Roberts said in a New York Times interview in 2017 that he was "bowled over" by his wife's intellect.

"Marrying the right person is the single most important decision you'll ever make in your life. Everything else is secondary. From the very beginning, I knew what an extraordinary person Cokie was," Steve Roberts said in the Times article, which was published to celebrate their then-50 year union in 2017.

The pair got married under an apple tree in the backyard of her family's home in Bethesda Maryland, and then-President Lyndon B. Johnson and first lady Lady Bird were among the 1,500 guests in attendance. The home stayed in the family, and was Cokie and Steve Roberts' home at the time of her passing.

"Cokie Roberts was a trailblazer who forever transformed the role of women in the newsroom and in our history books," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "Over five decades of celebrated journalism, Cokie shone a powerful light on the unsung women who built our nation, but whose stories had long gone untold."

Former President Barack Obama said Roberts was a role model for women at a time the journalism profession was still dominated by men, and was a constant over 40 years of a shifting media landscape and changing world.

"She will be missed, and we send our condolences to her family," Obama said.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, called Roberts a talented, tough and fair reporter.

"We respected her drive and appreciated her humor," the former president said. "She became a friend."

Roberts joined the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees in 2016. Mayo Clinic President & CEO Gianrico Farrugia issued the following statement Tuesday:

"We are deeply saddened by the news of the passing earlier today of our dear friend and Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees member, Cokie Roberts. We are grateful we had the honor and pleasure of working with Cokie. She exemplified integrity and compassion. 

"One of America's pioneering female journalists, Cokie had a passion for history and deep admiration for the Sisters of Saint Francis. During her keynote speech at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine commencement ceremony in May, 2018, she said, 'Oh yes, I know all about the marvelous Mayo brothers and their remarkable father … but if it hadn't been for a pushy nun who wouldn't take 'No' for an answer, Saint Marys Hospital would never have been built, and what became known as Mayo Clinic might not have ever existed.'

"Many things will be written and recalled in the coming days about Cokie's remarkable career and amazing life, but most importantly, great leaders leave their mark on humanity. We are all better for having known Cokie."

Full statement from the family of Cokie Roberts:

Her loving family announces the passing of journalist and author Cokie Roberts, due to complications from breast cancer, on September 17.

Born Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs on December 27, 1943, Cokie was – first and foremost – a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, cousin and friend.

Cokie's career as a journalist at National Public Radio and ABC News took her to the heights of her profession, and her success as an author on history and family put her on the best seller list.

But her values put family and relationships above all else.

She is survived by her husband of 53 years, journalist, author and professor Steven V. Roberts, her children Lee Roberts and Rebecca Roberts, her grandchildren Regan, Hale and Cecilia Roberts and Claiborne, Jack and Roland Hartman, along with numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.

She is also survived by friendships and by causes that she put her time, resources and energy into that are too numerous to count.

We would like to thank the staff at the National Institutes of Health for their dedication, expertise, work and incredible care for Cokie during her illness.

We will miss Cokie beyond measure, both for her contributions and for her love and kindness.

We are hopeful that Cokie now goes to join her parents, former Members of Congress Hale and Lindy Boggs, her siblings Barbara, Tom and William, who predecease her, and her God.

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