‘She Touched Their Lives’: Friends, Family Gather To Remember Cokie Roberts

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Friends, family, reporters and politicians are gathering Saturday morning in downtown Washington, D.C., to remember journalist Cokie Roberts.

Roberts died Tuesday at age 75, of complications from breast cancer. She had covered and commented on politics for NPR since 1978 and spent several decades working for ABC News as well, including several years co-hosting the Sunday morning political show This Week.

Roberts was seen as one of NPR’s “Founding Mothers” — a group of women who, reporting and hosting the news for NPR since the network’s very first days on-air, established NPR’s journalistic mission, sound, values and culture.

Roberts’ funeral Mass is being held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. It’s a fitting setting for a life devoted to politics and public service but also to Catholicism.

“I am Catholic like I breathe,” Roberts once said on C-SPAN. She covered papal visits and transitions for NPR and ABC and was live on the air from St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, when ABC broadcast around the clock to mark the new millennium. Roberts’ mother, Lindy Boggs, was former President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Vatican.

St. Matthew’s was the site of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. Every fall, it hosts the “Red Mass” that marks the beginning of a new Supreme Court term. Two popes have visited the cathedral as well.

As friends and family mark her life, many are likely to note what NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg reflected on this week: that Roberts was regularly asked to deliver eulogies herself.

“There was a reason” for the frequent requests, Totenberg said. “People felt such a deep connection to her because she touched their lives. Casual friends would find Cokie visiting them in the hospital. People in terrible financial straits would find her bailing them out, hiring them for work that perhaps she did not need, but work that left them with their dignity.”

Roberts is also likely to be remembered as a pioneer in broadcast journalism — a field that, when she started, had very few on-air roles for women.

“Cokie Roberts was a trailblazer who forever transformed the role of women in the newsroom and in our history books,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week.

“Over five decades of celebrated journalism, Cokie shone a powerful light on the unsung women heroes who built our nation, but whose stories had long gone untold. As she helped tell the full story of America’s history, she helped shape its future — inspiring countless young women and girls to follow in her groundbreaking footsteps,” said Pelosi.

NPR is remembering Roberts Saturday afternoon with a one-hour special broadcast airing on many public radio stations at 4 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2019 NPR.