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Cokie Roberts Cause of Death: Tribute to the Pioneering Journalist

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Cokie Roberts, a trailblazing journalist, author, and political commentator on television, who helped pave the way for women in broadcast journalism, has died at the age of 75, according to ABC News, where she worked as a congressional reporter and analyst.

American Women in Radio and Television named Roberts “one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting,” ABC reported. “We will miss Cokie beyond measure, both for her contributions and for her love and kindness,” her family said in a statement given to ABC. She leaves behind a husband of more than five decades, Steven Roberts, children Lee and Rebecca and six grandchildren. Her career spanned four decades. Roberts was the child of prominent political figures in Congress; her father was presumed dead in a mysterious plane crash. The cause was never determined because the plane was never found.

In a statement released by the network’s PR office, ABC News President James Goldston called Roberts “a true pioneer for women in journalism,” who “was well-regarded for her insightful analysis of politics and policy in Washington, DC., countless newsmaking interviews, and, notably, her unwavering support for the generations of young women — and men — who would follow her in her footsteps.”

According to a biography and oral history for Roberts created by the U.S. House, Roberts was born on December 27, 1943, in New Orleans, Louisiana. For many future female journalists, who grew up watching Cokie Roberts’ astute and analytical political commentary on television, she was a journalist who helped pave the way to a time where women more frequently weigh in on political and policy questions in public life.

Her quiet commentary and dignified style on television stand in contrast to the social media-fueled intensity of modern political debate. However, she waded into modern controversies with sharp criticism, penning a recent newspaper column with her husband that strongly criticized President Donald Trump. In the September 2019 column, they accused Trump of waging a “ferocious war on any facts or findings that contradict his warped view of the world.”

She was praised in tributes by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Bush and his wife, Laura, released a statement that said Roberts “covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend.”

“She was a trailblazing figure,” Obama’s statement read. “A role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way.” Other tributes also crossed partisan aisles.

Roberts’ death comes as public life has lost two other well-known figures in recent days, those from the music world: Ric Ocasek and Eddie Money.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Roberts, Who Worked Her Way Up From Local Television to Prominent Positions With Networks, Died of Complications From Breast Cancer

Cokie Roberts at National Archives Foundation Gala on October 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The full family statement reveals that Cokie Roberts’ cause of death was “complications from breast cancer.” She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and initially was “successfully treated,” the network reported, becoming an advocate for regular mammograms for women. Her family statement thanked “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.”

She had acknowledged some health problems recently; ABC quoted her as saying: “Over the summer, I have had some health issues which required treatment that caused weight loss. I am 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. I am grateful to everyone who has been in touch and sent their well wishes. Thanks for caring.”

Goldston’s statement said that Roberts died surrounded by those she loved.

“I’m writing with very sad news. Our dear friend and colleague Cokie Roberts passed away this morning in Washington, surrounded by her family and closest friends,” Goldston wrote. “…Cokie is perhaps the only reporter to have filed for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, World News Tonight and Nightline all in a single day.”

Many people remember Cokie Roberts from her time co-hosting ABC’s “This Week” with Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002 or from her commentary on the network.

However, she spent years working for other broadcast outlets, including local stations WNEW and KNBC-TV and later CBS News and NPR throughout the 1960s and 1970s, ABC reports. She also worked as a correspondent for MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour. In the 1980s, according to the oral history, she was congressional reporter for ABC.

Her family, though, in a statement released by ABC’s PR team, highlighted Cokie’s love of family as well as her professional accomplishments, saying she was “first and foremost – a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, cousin and friend…her values put family and relationships above all else.”


2. Roberts Was the Daughter of Prominent Democratic U.S Representatives From Louisiana; Her Mother Was the First Woman to Represent That State in the House & Her Dad Was House Majority Leader

The Boggs family in a photo in the Congressional archives. Cokie is pictured on the far left with her parents and siblings.

The oral history for the U.S. House gave some interesting background about Cokie Roberts’ life. She grew up around the U.S. Capitol, so it perhaps wasn’t surprising that she later became a journalist covering Congress.

She was the daughter “of prominent U.S. Representatives Hale Boggs and Lindy Boggs, who represented a New Orleans-centered district for half a century,” the biography says, adding that “Roberts recalled riding the old Senate subway, with its wicker seats; accompanying her father on the House Floor on the Opening Day of Congress in the late 1940s; prodding her father to speak out on the floor in support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and listening to prominent dinner guests such as Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas.”

According to Lindy Boggs’ House bio, Lindy was “the first woman ever to represent Louisiana in the House.” Lindy once said, “Almost all women’s issues are economic issues, a stunning idea to those persons who want to hear about ‘Great Women’s Issues’ and expect us to be preoccupied with the ERA or abortion or sexual harassment. The major issues of importance that I’ve worked for are economic ones: equal rights for women in business, banking, and home ownership; the promotion of women in the workplace; better jobs in government contracts; and equal opportunities for higher education, especially in science and medicine. Women vote their pocketbooks…it boils down to that.” Lindy, who died at age 97 in 2013, also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See at the Vatican.

US Vice President Al Gore (L) holds up the hand of Corinne “Lindy” Boggs at the Old Executive Office Building 12 November in Washington, DC. Boggs was later sworn in by Gore as the new US Ambassador to the Vatican.

In the oral history, Roberts discussed how she was a journalist in the 1980s at the same time her mother was a “leading member of the House.” You can see her oral history page here.

“I was covering the State of the Union, and I was standing in Statuary Hall, and there was a new shot—a new camera angle that we had never used before—and it was down the center aisle at knee height,” she said in the oral history. “And I had this incredible qualm because it all just came rushing back. That was my earliest memory of the chamber, and there it was at the right height for me to see it. But I still have moments in the Capitol where I will turn a corner, and something will just come rushing back. 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.”


3. Cokie Roberts Attended Catholic Schools Growing Up, Married a New York Times Correspondent & Was a Highly Regarded Author on Women in Political History

Emcee Cokie Roberts, award-winning journalist and author, speaks during the National Women’s History Museum’s Annual Women Making History Awards at the Carnegie Institution for Science on May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The oral history explains how Cokie “attended private Catholic schools—the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans and Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland.”

She was a graduate of Wellesley College with a political science degree from 1964. Her husband was a New York Times correspondent when they married two years later, and they lived in New York, L.A., and Europe, before settling in Washington D.C., the bio says. They later resided in Bethesda.

Roberts turned her gift for writing into books, wedding it with her interest in women in politics.

The oral history lists her books as We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters (1998), Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (2004), and Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation (2008), and in 2000 she and her husband wrote a book on marriage together called From This Day Forward.

Cokie and Steven Roberts spoke in 2017 about their enduring marriage to the New York Times. He described himself as “bowled over” by his wife’s brains. “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,” he told The Times. “…On a healthy relationship, at the core of longevity is a mutual respect and a sense of equality. Biting your tongue is often the right reaction to a moment of passing anger. Candor is overrated. I don’t mean deception or secrets. I mean real mutual respect, which leads to being gentle, loving, cautious and careful at times.”

Cokie explained in that interview that “the key in marriage is to try to change together. Couples don’t have to change at the same time, it’s more a question of getting there if you want to have that connection and commitment. There are different paces, and you have to realize that, and accommodate each other.”

Goldston also mentioned Cokie’s marriage in his statement, writing, “Her beloved husband Steve was at her side through all of it. They were married for over 50 years and wrote a widely popular syndicated newspaper column and two books together. Cokie and Steve were married in the garden of her parents’ Bethesda home, where Cokie grew up and they would later raise their family. They had two children, Lee and Rebecca, and six grandchildren, whom she cherished.”

George Washington UniversitySteven Roberts.

Roberts built a net worth of about $5 million. Steven Roberts has also worked as a professor; a work biography for him says he “has been a journalist for more than 45 years, covering some of the major events of his time, from the antiwar movement and student revolts of the 60s and 70s to President Reagan’s historic trip to Moscow in 1988 and eleven presidential election campaigns.”

The bio adds: “His 25-year career with the Times included assignments as bureau chief in Los Angeles and Athens, and as Congressional and White House correspondent.”

That biography says the couple’s son Lee is “a real estate investor in Raleigh, NC,” and their daughter Rebecca also works as a journalist.


4. Cokie’s Congressman Dad, Who Served on the Warren Commission, Died in a Mysterious Plane Crash in Alaska While on a Campaign Trip

Hale Boggs

The oral history explains how Cokie’s dad Hale Boggs was elected to Congress in 1940 but lost a re-election bid a couple years later. He then was re-elected to the House in 1946, serving through 1972 when he died in a plane crash on a campaign trip in Alaska.

He had been a “powerful member of the leadership, serving as Majority Whip (87th–91st Congresses) and Majority Leader (92nd Congress).”

It was out of this tragedy that Cokie’s mom, Lindy Boggs, was elected to the House. She served from 1973 to 1991, and was known for her focus on “women’s economic rights,” the oral history says.

GettyCokie Roberts

Her House bio says that Lindy Boggs had spent “three decades of serving as her husband’s political confidante, strategist, and surrogate campaigner” and “possessed more political acumen than any conceivable challenger. After winning a special election to succeed her husband, Congresswoman Boggs went on to serve 18 years in the House, becoming an advocate for women’s equality, economic opportunity for minorities, and the preservation of House heritage.”

That biography says that Lindy Boggs was born in Pointe Coupee Roads, Louisiana to a lawyer father and mother who remarried a cotton plantation owner when Lindy’s dad died.

Politico described the details of the plane crash. Hale Boggs, a Democrat, was in a twin-engine Cessna 310 plane. At the time, he was House Majority Leader. The plane “vanished in foul weather on this day in 1972 while en route between Anchorage and Juneau.” The plane also carried Rep. Nick Begich of Alaska, his aide, and a pilot.

A search and rescue operation was launched. According to Politico, it was “the largest search and rescue operation up to that point in U.S. history.” Politico reports that the bodies and plane were never found, sparking conspiracy theories because Roberts’ dad had served on the Warren Commission charged with investigating the John F. Kennedy assassination. According to Lindy’s House Bio, Hale Boggs won re–election after his death but the House then declared the seat vacant.

A 1972 New York Times article on the search explained, “Planes flying between Anchorage and Juneau usually check in with a Coast Guard station 130 miles southwest of here, but Mr. Boggs’s plane failed to make the radio check. Lieutenant Colonel Earl Ray of the Air Force said the search was not being concentrated north of the Hinchinbrook Island checkpoint because the aircraft’s radio could have failed before it went down.” But the plane was never located. You can read the FBI files on Thomas Hale Boggs here.

Some of the unproven theories into what happened to the plane involve a purported member of the Bonnano crime family. You can read more about that here.


5. Cokie’s Brother Gave Her the Nickname But ‘Cokie’ Wasn’t Her Given Name & She Recently Accused Trump of Destroying His Government’s Ability to Make Policy; Tributes Flooded in for Roberts

GettyFormer first lady Laura Bush (C), U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) and journalist Cokie Roberts participate in a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Thomas Hale Boggs Sr. and Lindy Boggs had three other children; the oral history says that Cokie’s real name is Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, but her well-known nickname came from her brother, Tommy, because he couldn’t pronounce “Corinne” when he was a kid. Lindy Boggs’ name was also Corinne.

Cokie’s column with her husband on Trump argued that the president is “single-handedly destroying the ability of his own government to make sensible policy because he refuses to accept the work of professionals — scientists and economists, intelligence analysts and agronomists — who remain dedicated to their standards of independent nonpartisanship.”

The column accused the president of having delusions, saying, “When Trump inflates the size of his inaugural crowds, or denies hush-money payments to former girlfriends, he’s being outrageous, but not dangerous. But when his delusions undermine government policy, the consequences can be deeply damaging.”

Tributes flooded in for Roberts from people who watched her on television and prominent political figures on both sides of the partisan aisle. “Cokie Roberts was a trailblazer who transformed the role of women in the newsroom & our history books as she told the stories of the unsung women who built our nation. Her warmth, wit and wisdom will be deeply missed by all,” Nancy Pelosi wrote in a statement on Twitter.

Kellyanne Conway wrote, “Cokie Roberts was kind. She disagreed agreeably. Cokie listened, offered advice, showed patience and poise, worked hard, put faith & family first. God bless. RIP.”

Democratic Presidential candidate, Julian Castro, former HUD secretary, wrote, “The work of political journalists is critical to our democracy. Cokie Roberts was a paragon of that work and a pioneer in her industry. Her voice will be missed.”

Others weighed in who knew Cokie from afar. “Thank you @CokieRoberts for your years of insight and knowledge. You will be greatly missed,” wrote one woman on Twitter. “Man, growing up in a politically aware family, #CokieRoberts was an indelible part of the zeitgeist within the four walls of my household. Her journalistic integrity will be missed,” wrote another.

“I have watched Cokie Roberts most of my life and I loved and respected her so much. We lost a legend in the news biz and she will be forever missed,” wrote one man, speaking for many others.

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