If Cokie Roberts was a living legend — and she would have been even if the Library of Congress hadn’t decreed as much in 2008 — one of her secrets was to never act like someone living off of a legacy.
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She was a force of the gentlest kind. She gathered details and spread knowledge. She dialed all of us into the broad world she knew so well and the narrow worlds of the countless individuals she sought to know better.
When Cokie spoke, we listened. That went for her viewers, listeners, readers, colleagues and also the politicians she covered.
That was only because Cokie herself listened so intently to the world around her. She built on her depth of historical knowledge and the history she lived personally with new details and fresh experiences, all with a tenacity and essential kindness that makes her loss particularly poignant and sad.
Cokie was dynamic and brilliant. She was also a wonderful person — which in turn helped make her an exemplary journalist, role model, mentor, mother, grandmother and friend. She was also a loyal reader — and sometime critic — of this space.
She explained without being didactic. She judged without being judgmental. Life experiences and scholarship mixed to make her a unique and decent voice for our times.
This is a moment in political life that demands historical perspective and insight, as well as humanity and a little humor. This will not be the last moment that will miss Cokie Roberts.
Cokie Roberts covering the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
She told women to speak up, demand a seat at the table
Cokie Roberts was never too busy to be kind.
My first month at ABC News she graciously agreed to get coffee. Not only was she a role model and inspiration, but soon a dedicated mentor. Over her career, Cokie diligently counseled hundreds of young reporters, especially women. We needed it, and still do.
At that first meeting, Cokie and I debated the effectiveness of politicians’ various messaging strategies on health care and shared our frustrations about network news. She told me to remember that at times we would only have room for the headlines and that was alright. Make the words count.
I asked about managing Washington-relationships, where people can cross over from friends to sources and back again. She laughed and said to get over it. That’s just this town. She would know — she knew it better than anyone.
It is no surprise that past presidents and current political leaders from both sides of the aisle paid tribute to her on Tuesday. She was tough and exacting, yes, but always personable and full of joy.
When I was gone for months on the campaign trail, Cokie stayed a constant presence in my inbox. She was an anchor and an icon at the network, but would still reply to my notes as junior reporter in the field with follow-up questions or quick words of encouragement.
“You’ll look back on it as a wonderful experience,” she wrote me one day. “For now you just have to live through it. You’re doing great!”
No compliment felt as good as one from the brilliant Cokie.
She told women to speak up, demand a seat at the table and dress appropriately.
She brought balance to many political roundtables and knew how important that was. She also told us to put our personal lives first. If we did that, she said, our careers would follow.
Ida Mae Astute/ABC
ABC News’ Cokie Roberts, left, and Robin Roberts coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016.
(MORE: ABC News colleagues remember Cokie Roberts)
That’s a hard message for ambitious women in Washington to hear, but from her it resonated. After all, she broke barriers and shattered glass ceilings for decades. Last November, she celebrated the record number of women elected to Congress, but reminded them of their responsibility.
“Now that they actually hold office they can no longer simply denounce the president and rally disheartened women to their sides,” she wrote in February. “Now they need to do something for those women.”
On the biggest stories, when talking about political figures who seemed larger than life, Cokie could articulate kernels of humanity.
“We know women just like her,” Cokie said of Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
And she always had the perfect anecdote or historical reference to put unfolding events into context. In the wake of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, she remembered living in New Orleans in 1960 when a federal judge ordered the schools to integrate. She said the people shouting their hateful slogans in Charlottesville were out in force in the South in that era and remembered a first-grade girl walking through that screaming crowd.
She also never shied away from talking publicly about her personal faith. Being a Christian in the newsroom and on camera can be challenge, to say the least, but she did so with academic thoughtfulness and profound grace.
SLIDESHOW: Slideshow: Cokie Roberts through the years
She knew the world and had a gift for translating it as a journalist
I was thinking how much I missed Cokie just last Thursday at the debate. I emailed her a few hours before the debate saying, “I wish you were here. I couldn’t wait to hear your perspective on all the candidates.”
She got right back to me saying how much she missed being there.
She was a fixture. She was a pioneer. She never left the family business, because the family business for Cokie Roberts was not just politics, it was public service in the broadest sense of the word. She brought that spirit to her journalism.
She really knew the world. She knew the entire world so deeply from the inside. She knew the players, she knew the institutions, and she knew how the system worked. She had such a gift for translating that, for bringing that to all of our viewers at ABC and all of her listeners on NPR, explaining what was going on in Washington in a way that made sense. That’s why she was a fixture on all of our broadcasts, whether it was election night, midterm elections, state funerals, inaugurations or conventions. She knew everyone, she knew the issues and she communicated it with such charm.
I worked side by side with Cokie for many years. I also had to face her sometimes. That wasn’t always as fun being on the other side, but what a pleasure. It has always been a pleasure being by her side as a friend and colleague.
The first question she would ask when you saw her was, “how are your kids?” She knew family was important and she communicated that.
Ida Mae Astute/ABC
ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, DOnna Brazile and Cokie Roberts cover the Democratic Presidential debate from St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, Dec. 19, 2015.
(MORE: ‘Until we meet again’: A fond farewell to my friend Cokie Roberts)
A storyteller and historian who had a great ability to see between the lines
Cokie was my role model and mentor to women journalists and women in politics. She understood the power of words but also had a great ability to see between the lines. As a storyteller and historian who understood the inner workings of Capitol Hill, it was always a delight to sit next to her during the State of the Union or the inaugural ceremonies.
Cokie knew the decorum and she could identify every member sitting in the aisle waiting to greet or meet the president.
Most importantly, she was a beloved daughter of New Orleans, where she visited often and kept up with the locals — the new restaurants and what was going on inside and outside the Catholic church. She loved her entire family. If it was up to Cokie, she would have saved every child on the planet.
We cried together and we often spent Sundays waiting on the New Orleans Saints to get their act together. Cokie made room and time for everyone in her life, including all of us “Who Dat” folks.
Cq Archive/Rebecca Roth/CQ Roll Call via AP
Cokie Roberts, right, applauds along with Sen. Barbara Mikulski,at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Recently, I unearthed a journal where I occasionally jotted down my thoughts while we were living in Greece. I found an entry from twenty-one years ago, when I was thirty-three years old and contemplating our family’s next move.
“No one writes about women like me, and we probably form a large group, who daily make the choice about our career, family, etc. It’s not a one-time decision, but a continual one. And we can get so trapped by any alternative — the pure kid, pure work or balance. So can a man, of course, but in nothing like the same way.”
That was a long time ago, and so far I haven’t gotten trapped. I’ve been blessed with a gloriously happy marriage, two fabulous kids now safely launched, the many joys of family and friendship, and a fine, fulfilling career. By living on this earth long enough, I’ve learned that clichés are clichés because they are true. It’s true that you’ll only have one opportunity to witness your baby’s first step, to hold your dying sister’s hand, to see your mother credentialed by the Pope, to hold your mother-in-law as she learns about her husband’s death, to celebrate thirty years with your husband. There will always be another job.
Brian K. Diggs/AP
Vice President Gore administers the oath of office to Lindy Boggs as ambassador to the Vatican during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Nov. 12, 1997, as her son Tommy holds the Bible and her daughter Cokie Roberts and grandson Paul Sigmund watch.
ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast. Tuesday morning’s episode features ABC News Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, who explains what President Donald Trump is hearing from a variety of voices when it comes to possible responses to the Saudi oil attack. Then, ABC News Chief National correspondent Matt Gutman explores why the Trump administration is getting involved in a number of state regulations in California. http://apple.co/2HPocUL
ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast. ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl celebrate the life and legacy of Cokie Roberts with ABC News colleagues Karen Travers and Avery Miller. http://apple.co/2Zfz5nD
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