tv Steven Roberts Cokie - A Life Well Lived CSPAN February 22, 2022 12:32pm-1:30pm EST
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>> up next journalist steven roberts reflects on the life in journalismat career of his late wife cokie roberts. >> we are told as an axiom of life never judge a book by it's cover. i am news for you. george this on by its cover. -- judge this one by its cover. she's one of those people it's impossible to take a bad picture of, not just because she's a lovely personif but because a le force just seem to pop out of her. the camera loved her with goodea reason. the great love stories of history are james and dolley madison, and stephen cokie roberts. what a talk about that a little bit also about her tremendous life, but let's begin at the beginning, steve. how did you meet? >> well, thank you, george, thanks brad. cokie and i've done p&p many,
many times over many years, just sorry we couldn't do in person tonight. but we deeply appreciate it and brad m melissa are also neighbors of mine. i walk my dog across the house every night and we share this community. cokie and i met when i i was 9 and she was 18. we were just kids, george. we were at a student political meeting of all things, national student association. it was meeting at ohio state university in the summer of 1962. i was w there as a delegate from harvard, she was from wellesley. she had metet my twin brother wo had been active in the organization and we were not identical but we look a lot alike. the way she told the story is she looked across room and saw somebody to look a lot like mark roberts, but not quite like mark roberts so she comes over and she looks atyo my name tag and says are you mark roberts brother?is i met her older sister barbara
who also was involved in that organization. i looked at her name and s i sad oh, are you barbara's sister? that's how we met. fortunately we got back to boston and the dorms were only 12.5 miles apart in boston and she asked me out. she was a singer, george, and as many women in npr were, she was performing in the junior show. she invited me to come see it and we had this -- of the local howard johnson. nothing was too good for cokie. but she tells the story, or her roommate tells a story of her coming back that night and dancing through the hall singing this song from west side story. i feel pretty, i feel pretty. and it will make us thinking this is not going to end well, because she was catholic, i was jewish and at that moment people thought it was an obstacle.
four years later we made it work. >> how important was it in -- you are required to this marriage remarkable mother-in-law. everyone knows about congressman -- >> absolutely. the family, i fell in love with my mother-in-law first and got around to cokie, and there's some truth to that. in this house one sitting right now, about six months after we first met, i was a typical guy. we had a couple of dates. i thought she wonderful. i didn't call. and then a group of us were coming here to washington for another political meeting and it turns out we're supposed to drive in the same car. i remember approaching the car. i hadn't seen her in months, and i remember approaching, the car and looking through the back window and seeing her. vaccine cokie and thinking, you idiot. this is the grill. we got in the car and go to
washington, and that night right here just a room or two away from where i'm sitting right now it ise i'm still in his house, the family house that was bought in 1952 on bradley boulevard, and so i had a terrible cough that night because i was spending the winter in boston. you had a call all winter. i hear a knock on the door, and its 1963 some pretty sure it's not cokie. in walks my mother-in-law, my future mother-in-law, george, the future ambassador to the vatican, the future 18 your member of congress and then off the shoulder teach colored négligée.y she says, you sound terrible. drink this, which was unsure at least two-thirds bourbon. i was stunned. i had never t met anybody like this in new jersey, george. i did fall in love with my mother-in-law first but she was so welcoming to me as a jewish
person. she, not just me but my parents and my father was very much against this match for a long time, and then finally, you can imagine because when cokie and her mother put on the charm, he didn't have a chance. and finally at one point he says to me george, you know, it will be so much easier to oppose this marriage if it wasn't so obvious, she's the perfect girl for you. then a new is going to be okay. a rarity a woman in a boy's game and i do mean woman and i do mean boys. yes political. journalism, and she lived to go through the me, too. period and she lived into an era when 60% of college undergraduates are women a majority in business school and law school, i think now and soon probably in medical school. when she looked back at this.
she must felt some deep satisfaction about that all. she did and by the way, i teach journalism and i'd say 80% of my students are well. i taught a writing class last year. i had 15 students and 15 women and two men in it. so she looked back with enormous satisfaction because she had faced a lot of discrimination. you know, we got married in 1966 now people don't realize this but she actually was already hosting her own tv show on the local nbc. pardon expression nbc station here in washington, and it was a measure of life in 1966. that we didn't even have a conversation about whose job was more important. i had been hired as a reporter on the city staff new york times in new york, and we just assumed she would come to new york. so she left her job comes to new york and the doors were just slammed in her face. she tells the story over and
over that the newsweek magazine to take one example told her we do not hire women to be writers now. since she wound up writing five bestselling books george. i think she probably got the better of that argument in the long run but newsweek at this time fancy itself the liberal alternative to stuffy loose dominated time magazine exactly the liberal magazine my goodness, but she did be having face that kind of discrimination. she took particular satisfaction not only in a really in her own advancement but george as you know in those years that when you work together at abc, she was a ferocious advocate. for other women and i talked to david weston who was quoted in the book. he was the news director for a good part of those years and this direct coit. he said cokey would march into my office and bust my chops demanding that we put more women
on the air, so she had a not only she had a tremendous sense of obligation because other women it helped her nina totenberg and linda wurthymer helped get her hired at npr and she was a charter member of the old girls network and determined to do for other women what men guys had always done for each other for time out of mind. did you too you were the new york times and she with npr and then abc did you ever have journalistic rivalries? that is you knew something that she wanted to know or she knew something you wanted to know and every once in a while not very often because she could always scoop me because she was on the air earlier right? in fact for most of eight years we covered the same beat george. i was in times correspondent on capitol hill. she was the npr correspondent with commute together and have lunch together would cover the same press conferences and covering the hill. we trade it a lot information, but she she was always on the air first.
so, you know, i always got scooped. cookie is to this day and an example of a really rare phenomenon. that is the true pure long-standing washingtonian. this is a town of people coming and going to town of short leases as it were. i've been here 50 years and i'm beginning to feel like a washingtonian. and and i kind of like the place. what if koki think of washington? well, she was deeply committed to this community. and she understood on two levels. you know as you point out her father was a member of congress. that's why she came here the family bought the house. i'm sitting in right now when she was eight 1952. her dad served for 30 years in congress. then he was killed in a plane crash and 1972 when he was majority leader of the house and her mother took the seat and she served another 18 years.
i point out that we do not believe in term limits in our family and and so they she had she had a deep respect. for the city as the seed of government and she had a deep respect for the institutions of government. yeah, she understood the two-party system. it's not as if she thought everybody should agree with each other, but she understood the two party system was a vital part of our system, but she she grew up with this. inbred understanding of politics but also respect for politics politician is a dirty word in a lot of households in washington, including a lot of journalistic households. not in this one not in her household. and so she had a respect for the city chatter respect for the institutions, but she also had to respect for the community. she went to school here the stoneridge school of the sacred heart, which is just up the road here on wisconsin avenue outside
of bethesda, and she had a deep loyalty to the nuns who taught her there to her classmates. so she was a creature of two washingtons. she was a creature of the official washington and she was a creature of the neighborhood washington. she's also a creature however of new orleans in a way jack kennedy once said that washington was a town of southern efficiency and northern right, but coqui there was a there was a southern dimension to coke. he was absolutely you know you to understand the way her family got to orleans in 1801. huh? how are the battle of new orleans? yeah, i mean her her mother's name was claiber. lindy claverin was her maiden name that was cookies middle name. we have a grandson named claiborne, too. wcc claiborne was elected to congress from tennessee in 19 in
1797 george and in the election of 1800 when it was threatened the jefferson burlection of thrown into the house. he had a whole vote to himself. and because he was the only congressman from tennessee. it had been a state only four years and he cast the vote for jefferson at a critical moment helped elect jefferson president the next year jefferson makes him governor of the mississippi territory as a political payoff and two years later when jefferson buys the louisiana from france, he makes clibrant the governor of louisiana. that's how the family got there. so they've been in louisiana since 18, you know, 1803 and the biggest street in new orleans, claiborne. was named for her family so she had this deep affection for new orleans. and yes that southernism you know, there was kind of a veneer of gentility and graciousness which served her very very well search her mother very very well as a political figure, but you know that old phrase steel
magnolia didn't even begin to describe the bogs women in terms of the steel. that was beneath that genteel exterior and her father was at a difficult and brave position in new orleans when desegregation came well, absolutely, and now he represented new orleans george. he didn't represent, macon, georgia, you know or alabama, but he it was a cosmopolitan city but still in 1965. he was the only member of congress from the deep south to vote for the voting rights act and when i talked to my children and grandchildren about their ancestor and say remember the most important thing he ever did it was standing up for civil rights at that moment it almost cost him and see 1968 three years later linda johnson, of course predicted correctly. the devoting rights act would turn the south republican and a resurgent republican party in
new orleans almost defeated. he had the closest election in the war in the congress 1968. so he paid a big political price for it, but the family had, you know, the family had always been deeply committed to civil rights as coke he was the political profession like dentistry and journalism and law and everything else lives under the tyranny of the bell-shaped curve fewer god-awful and a fewer terrific and that's the right in the middle did cokie have have some favorites among politicians. hmm, she i think she did one of her favorites was tip o'neill. who was the speaker of the house during most of the time she and i both covered congress and she loved the fact that among other things her dad's former chief of staff had become tips chief of staff and there was a close relationship there, but i think she admired o'neill's that the
fact that o'neil never got too far away from his own roots and his own community and they had a very warm relationship and tip i used to say about koki and her running mate linda wartheimer who covered congress with her for npr tip used to say i give huge girls from npr all the first all the first shots and stories used girls from npr. and so i i think she she partly loved him because he had such a joy about politics and the other speaker that she revered with sam rayburn who during her growing up years her father was a protege of sam rayburn who's the speaker all through the 50s and died in 1961 and this house as i said where i'm sitting right now raven had no family. he had married briefly. no children. it was kind of lonely and here was this family of this. bright young guy and smart
beautiful wife and three kids. said he was out at this house at least once a week sometimes more for dinner. and so cokey grew up literally bounced on the knee of the speaker of the house and she had a great affection for mr. sam partly because one time her she had a pet chicken who had died and they were having a funeral for the preach cookies was six or seven and they were having a funeral for the kicking in the yard and her brother starts singing with theme from dragnet and she comes bursting into the into the house mr. sam was here for dinner and she says tommy is singing drag better. we can't give charlie chicken a proper burial burial and mr. sam comes out. and presides as a baptist minister over the funeral of charlie chicken in the yard. i think he sang amazing grace, you know cookie never forgot the kindness of mr. sand. the koki although she was a broadcasting prodigy is you say, i think she had a show at 21.
yeah, but the and she had family momentum and experience and all that but there was a moment that was kind of her breakthrough that i'd like you to tell people about and that had to do with so when you were in athens and the greek military became restive and had a coup tell us. yeah. well if you know, this is a this is a good story because she had we had moved from my job. we got married moved to new york as i mentioned them. he moved to los angeles. i was the correspondent. she always had jobs and she was a very good at them. she won an emmy in la for producing a children's television show, but we moved to athens where i was assigned for the times and shouldn't produce children's shows and greece because she didn't know greek so he decided that she would try to find a connection with one of the networks to do some stringing part-time work then she connects to cbs and we get there and she helps get the house in order and get the kids in school and she cable cbs and
says, okay, i'm ready to work and no more than a week or two. later. there's a coup in cyprus and the the left-wing government had been overthrown by a right-wing coup all the reporters in that part of the world when the airport opens up in cyprus head for cypress, including me and cbs's main stringer in athens and everybody else. and then the turks invade cyprus because they wanted to reverse the coup. i'm under fire in cyprus. don't know what's happening cbs back in -- and cbs cables cokie roberts and says the turks of invaded cyprus. can you file in 30 minutes george? she had never done a radio report in her life. she figures out how to do what she goes down to the to the reuters office where i was working and she gets on the air that first night. and she gets on the air and then and next day the military government in athens, which have
been starting to get shaky had been there for seven years starts crumbling. and that was a much bigger story than the -- cyprus greece and nato country much more important country and she's the only english language reporter in the country basically, and so she does she she hears all of this excitement. she's taking a cab home. and worried is starting to filter out the military government is fallen and she leaps out of the cab. she's got a tape recorder. she's getting all of the sound of all of the cheering and in the main square of athens. there was a row of flower shops along the the square so she goes into one of the flower shops and asked if she can use the phone and starts taking it apart because in those days to get your radio reports, you have to use these clips into the in the workings of the phone guy thought she was a cia agent, right and he starts and she says no, no, it's all right. i'll buy flowers from you. she gets on the air that night
and cbs calls her mother and says, do you have a picture of your daughter and lindy says my god what's wrong? they said no, no. the only report we have out of essence today is koki's radio report and we're going to run it as the lead of the cbs new evening news tonight with walter cronkite, but we want to run her picture with it while we play the audio, so second night. she works for cbs. she leads the cronkite show and for the next five or six days. she's reporting continuously. i'm in cyprus. i have no idea this is going on because i'm under fire in cyprus. i'm recording for the times. finally. i get out to i get a military flight to england i come back to assets i walk through the door. and fine i married to a veteran foreign correspond when i had left eight days before she had never done the radio spot and there she was 24 hours filing continuously. and what happened? how did that radiate through her
career that well. it's a good question. actually cbs was so taken with her. i mean look george, you know this you worked alongside over you tell this wonderful story you that's quoted in my book about how the first day. she was on abc the the roundtable and this week and i asked you what was your reaction and you have this wonderful quote you say i thought the varsity had arrived and people had since this before about her, you know, particularly tv produces. he had this natural gift the camera loved. and and and so cbs actually wanted to hire her to be there roving reporter in europe. i can't do this. i got two little kids at home. i've got a husband who's roving himself, but we come back to to washington and i instinctively knew that radio was going to be a great medium for her the first day. i'm back in washington 1977. i go into the washington bureau of the new york times. i sit down they give me a desk. i look around there's a young
woman sitting next to me on recognize introduce myself says her name is judy miller. i said, i don't know your byline. you knew the papers. she said yes, and i said where she used to work. and she says national public radio, and i said george. what's that? because i had no idea it had been in an existence for six years, but for four of those years we had been in europe. but she had the radio experience. so i just said that i instinct was that that is best place for my wife to work. that's perfect. what do i do? i've got a wife crying ourselves to sleep and bethesda every night and she said and judy said call my friend nina totenberg who then and still today supreme court correspondent and i i called nina. she says i know who you are. get me cookies resume tomorrow. i walked a resume from the new york times bureau around the block to npr and i handed it to nina totenberg and nina as i said earlier nina understood the old girls network and she pushed cokie's resume through it npr
and that's that's how she started at npr 1977 book for the first day george. she was a full-time staff working journalist. she was 34 years old people don't realize them. i have a theory actually i overflow a series but one of them that the internet's had its impact in television, of course, but i might feeling is that radio meant more had a bigger impact on politics in the 20th century than anything else. franklin roosevelt's voice hitler's use of radio churchill >> churchill, edward rmorrow from london . cokie did everything, she was a writer, and she did what she likedhbest . >> she liked it in different ways. sheliked radio because she felt she could be more
complex in her analysis . you and i both know, anyone that's been on radio and tv, people say i saw you on tv .? they say you need a haircut ou or i like your time and you say what about my brilliant analysis of the federal budget and they have notheard but if you're on radio, they quote back . and she always felt radio was this great storytellersmedium . only one sensory input, they're not distracted by the picture. so each medium she saw it for what it coulddo and she understood the tidifferences . when she started writing books and history books she understood this was a mechanism by which she could resurrect the stories of women that had not been told by one of the reasons why she was so keen on writing history, not only because as
imentioned her family had been part of american political history for several generations . our mutual friend steve has done a study of prominent families in american history. his original writings had roosevelt as number one, kennedy's for number two and clyburn's is number three. cokie, he said steve, you forgotabout six members of my family . george has to recalibrate his ratings but clyburn is now number two. that's only because the roosevelt had 2 presidents and they got a lot of numbers . >> where are the items? >> there about four or five of the peter out in the last century or two but clyburn's starting 1797 almost every generation there's been somebody in public office so she had this great sense of history but she had grown up
with her mother and she even said it. my mother remindsme of dolly madison . she said because she saw these women like lady bird johnson, betty ford. pauline gore who were these important influential figures in washington but behind the scenes so that gave cokie a sense of what women had always played before this and there's a great story when she decided after house staff, she never asked for this but the opportunity to go from backstage to center stage as a member of congress she decides to run and calls her lifelong friend, maybe her closest friend lady bird johnson to say i want you to know i'm running for house seat and i want you to know from me before you read it in the papers and mrs.johnson says wendy, darn. that's wonderful. but how are you going to do it without a wife ? >>. [laughter] >> you said that a moment ago about people , not remembering
a word yousay on television . it doesn't matter what you wear on radio or what you say on television . dolly madison was quite historically important because james madison was my hero, use the wallpaper on my phone. he's the greatest political philosopher since aristotle in my judgment but he was shy and unassuming and five foot four and wasn't cut out for this and dolly just made him into a force. >> absolutely. cokie moved from back where people were friendly in washington across the aisle into today it's just politics . did she say anything late in her life as to how we might get backto where we once were ? >> it's a good question.
of the subtext here is you point out the way washington worked in an earlier era but neither one of us want to pretend this is some housing on period where democratic lines or republicans saying to my one of the things that's true about washington and that is in that era a lot of the members of congress and their families to washington and they left here. and they were neighbors and their kids went to the same school. and went to the same churches and this had a very beneficial effect in terms of creatingthese threads of respect and even affection that people had for each other . and cokie's family moved into this house when she waseight. next door neighbor right next door was a leading official in the republican party , cokie babysat for their daughter who became a republican member of congress
from misery. toand emblematic of this is a wonderful story in the book where betty ford, like you're a member of course president ford was one of the republican leaders of the house and also democratic leader of the house. great friends but they appeared on countless platforms together and betty ford summons cokie when she is planning her funeral. she's a first lady and this is a state occasion and she says i want you to give a eulogy at my funeral talking about what washington was like when we're all growing up here and the relationships across party lines. this is not asking her to give a speech in grand rapids. this was a eulogy at a state funeral. that's how important mrs. ford thought this relationship was and cokie shared that. whether there is an answer to it, in some ways the fracturing of the congressional families and
the fact they don't come to washington, there's one good reason for it which is so many's more spouses have independent professions back home. they can pick up and moved to washington with their husbands. that's a positive thing but something really important has been lost and i think that cokie would always say that you have to understand the humanity behind the politics. you have to spend time getting to know people not as creatures of ideology or policy but as real people and that certainly was one way she viewed the congress and viewed politicians in general . >> before we go to the questions very quickly i'd like to ask you this . as a columnist blast me what you think abouty or z and i usually say i don't know, i haven't written about it yet . i awrite often to say what i
think about something and discover what i think about it . when you write a book particularly , the writing can take you in different directions than you thought. was there a kind ofsurprising , meandering nature to your writing thisbook ? >> that's a good question. yes, in one sense. severalsenses but i'll save the most important was this . i always knew george how much time and energy and emotional commitment cokie had to her friends. she did something good for someone else every single day. she lived the gospel and i always knew that i was not there when she counseled young women in her office. i was not there when shewas at every maternity ward in the greater washington area scooping up every baby born by a friend of hers . i erwas not there when she
accompanied friends to their oncology appointments when they were facing a cancer diagnosis. i was not there when shewent to the funeral of everybody's parents . i set about trying to hear the stories from the women themselves. i did not want to be the guy who tried to interpretthem so i talked to 50 of her friends and i heard stories i have never heard before . countless stories i had never heard before but i'll tell you one. great friend nina totenberg was married to a senator from colorado. lloyd haskel was a democrat and nina, her husband died much older than she was. and he died in maine and had to transport his body back here. nina said cokie ran floyd stepped. she just did everything for me. and the final act was to go
pick up the casket . you've got to be a pretty good friend to say i'm going to come with you topick out a casket for your husband . though they go to the funeral home on wisconsin avenue and character is trying to sell them a more expensive casket than she wanted. and she says miss totenberg, your husband was a very tall man so he be more comfortable in this more expensive coffin. so nina and cokie look at each other and burst out laughing. nina says you've got to be a special friend. not only to be there at that moment of such pain and stress but to see thehumor in it . and i heard a lot of stories like that that i had never e heard before. >> on that note i'm passing over to haskelthat be my senator .
let's go to some questions. there's one hear from margaret linzer. how much was cokie's all-female education instrumental in forming her professional career success through determination and self-confidence . >> i know margaret linzer and it's a great question . w it was very important to her. she never went to school at any level with men. she was taught sand went to wellesley and she often said my role models of authority and inspiration were all women. she remained a devout catholic whole life and itwas not easy being a thinking woman in the catholic church . she said the nuns used to say you can grow up to be anything you want except a priest .
and she was furious about that. she was once asked what would you change and the catholic church? ordain women, that's the first thing she said but there were women of authority, they were there important to her all through but her brother and older sister had gone to catholic colleges to. and for her to go to wellesley was a real departure. there's a story in the book about her mother got more and more roles. she was a baby in the fall of 1960 before the kennedy and nixon election at their driving off to wellesley, dropping dcokie and my mother-in-law starts saying i miss my baby and a yankee protestant republican school and i always said to my mother-in-law what was the worst of the three . he wasn't even in the picture yet. wellesley was important in her upbringing.
>> ryan wants to know what are one or two lessons you know about marriage now that you wish you had known when you and cokie first married. >> we've written a book about marriage and it was an adage i've repeated many times which is you can tell i healthy relationship, a partnership. you can tell a healthy one by the number of teeth marks in your tongue from biting it on a regular basiss. i think that candor is ,vastly overrated. i don't mean deceit of course, i don't mean secret . what i mean is often when someone says i'm going to tell you what i think, for small there being selfish and can be cruel and they can say things that you can never quite rolled back. i think gentleness, thoughtfulness, respect, don't always say the first or even second thing that popped into yourmind .
>> is the nickname cokie derived from marrying martha corey? >> corian was her given name but her brother couldn't pronounce karine so it got to be cokie. her grandmother was cocoa so it wasn't a big stretch. but when she first one on national public radio, he thought she was at was not a serious name for a serious journalist. he objected and said it's too cutesy so cokie as you know have a devilish sense of humor. and she said all right power, she goes out one night and climbs up and this is mary martha , and at which point frank says okay and cokie turned out tobe great for her because she was the only one . she almost became like madonna, one name, everybody knew cokie. we held up the book earlier and it was cokie, everybody
reflected that name. there were a great many dogs names for cokie, at least one dairy cow that i know of and she was a constant source of crossword puzzle clues because five anletters, okay. it fits very well into many crossword puzzles. >> mary costronovo says it's very hard to be a thinking person in the catholic church . out of the alignment with the far political right affect among many us bishops? >> she tried not to get involved in artisan politics but i can say very clearly she said over and over again, i'm not going to let the bishops drive me out of this
church. it's my church. i have a personal relationship tojesus and to god and that's how i was taught, that's howi was raised . that's what i believe and that's what i'mgoing to do . so she bstruggled with that but as i've said , one of the reasons why she remained so loyal to her school recently as a family we've donated a new theater at that school which has just opened this fall. because that was the place because this was an institution where her face was most alive for two reasons. first off it was an institution for women but also was an institution that focused on the gospel . she said from the time i was a small child i was taught by the nuns to those whom much is given, much is expected. it's the most basic catechism that's taught t right there with the golden rrule and she lived it every day. so she found a way to
separate a hierarchy and politics of the church from her personal faith and value systems. >> i remember reading an article you wrote for the new york times magazine about a jewishboy marrying a non-jewish thgirl . it was a wonderful piece and i never forgot it. any other religioustidbits you can offer ? >> i was asked by a rabbi the other day she said what advice would you give to so many of her congregants and her parishioners in jewish families with children involved in relationships with non-jewish partners and i said my answer is embraceit . respect it. the way we were able to do this was to focus on what we shared, not the labels or the expectations or the prejudices people tried to impose on us.you know how you sit aroundthe kitchen
table, you do nottalk about theology . maybe you do . >> talk about how are we going to raise kids? you've raised your own family. you talk about what are our real atvalues? you don't talk about theology or doctrine. people tried to impose that on us so what we learned was if we struggled and it took 4 years but if we focused on our common commonalities, one of the interesting things is that she was a devout catholic. i was deeply committed to mi like two years as a tribal and historical identity. my grandparents had fled eastern europe. i had one of my grandfathers was an early dentist pioneer in palestine before he moved to america and we saw mirror images of each other. we saw each one was a real traditionalist. we were committed to our ioown people, our own tribes and
that made it easier because that created an understanding and respect, i knew where she was coming from and she knew where i was coming from. but don't let other people to find you and don't let other people impose their prejudices on you. focus on each other. >> ,murphy asked how did you end cokie work through your professional differences. you mentioned your career ve initially was a priority and you've spoken before abouthow that shifted over time how did you to try to find that balance ? >> someone asked me in an interview what would you say to other men who are married to such powerful women? and my answer was the grateful. because you have a lifelong partner. i know your life mori, i know you to share that same kind ofrelationship . she's a prominent public and
political strategist and i met her in the reagan white house. i am not here to pretend it was easy, george. i am not here to pretend it was without bumps in the road. as she became more famous, a lot more money than me, i have to accept the fact that i was no longer the most well-known or best paid member of the family. and i had to deal with typical male ego issues. >> i give her the real credit for it because it never once in all those years of her skyrocketing popularity yrthat she ever use it as leverage in the relationship. whether it was for fame or income she never used it that way . and we had known each other a long time. we had had to fight through this enormously difficult problem when we were very very young because both of
our families were against our match,particularly mine. we had to figure out how to solve that problem when we were kids . that gave us a foundation as many tears and troubles as that involved, it gave us the confidence we could solve problems together and gave us an understanding of how to do it h. so when we had those rough patches and there was a rough time. not only did she become famous, i left the new york times and both our kids went away to college in the space of a couple of years and any one of those traumas could destabilize the relationship and we had three or four at the same time. but i guess for most of the credit. she was the one that kept us on an even keel. >> and anonymous attendee once you know what advice would you offer about grieving the loss of a spouse ?
>> three is the most personal and most universal of human emotions and rituals. not everybody graduates from college, not everybody gets married, not everybody has a child. not everybody is confirmed at bar mitzvah. every single person grieves often many times in their lives. and it's the most personal and most universal. so i'm hesitant to give advice. for me, the answer was to embrace. not dismissed, to embraceher story . to celebrate her story. i can hardly help that i'm sitting here not only in the house we lived in together for 42 years but i can look out and it start now but i can look out the window and see in the garden the place we were married in 1966. i sleep in the same bed.
i eat breakfast at the same kitchen table. and that's the way i want it and that's been nurturing and reinforcing and helped me get through the grief. other people do it in their own way. i've been very fortunate to have the book as a way of grieving and a way of celebrating. it's got me not only through the grief but it's got me through covid which came on top of the grief . she died six months before it happened and it would have been doubly isolating and difficult without the book. but every day no matter i have something important to do and that was remember, there were times it was painful to her. every interview i did including the one with you and others, almost everyone ended in tears. mine and the people i interviewed . i only half kid that i needed a waterproof keyboard because there were days when i walked
through the writing process. but it was very sustaining. >> a related question, how did cokie, her mother and siblings with her father's death? >> it was a deeply painful story and probably some of us must know it and some don't. he was killed in a plane crash in alaska while campaigning for a fellow member of congress in1972 and the plane was never found . most people think that it plunged into prince william sound through several hundred feet of water. so we had months of this enormously painful limbo and cokie never fully got over her father's death. she deeply grieved the fact that our children were 2 and 4 when he died so they would have no memory of him.
she would not see her children grow up. and she said something once that was so poignant. when you move back into the childhood house, we bought the house in 1977. she said i know it was crazy but i couldn't bring myself to change the wallpaper in thekitchen . because i have this totally irrational belief that my father might actually show up one day and if he saw that the wallpaper had been changed he would think strangers were living in the house. that is not the only early death that left her deeply wounded. older sister barbara died of cancer anand she has written about how and i quoted in the book that she said it never occurred to me that i would not grow old next to my
sister, that we wouldn't sit next to each other in rocking chairs on some porch somewhere. she said the empty chair, barbara's empty chair has always been a powerful reminder to me about how fleeting life is. sometimes people said to her barbara's death or her own illness it reminds you of mortality and how precious life is and she says i don't need any more reminders. i've had plenty of reminders how precious life is and how fleeting it can be. >> your color wants to know bothis, your love for cokie shines through in every page but i imagine writing her story must'vebeen emotionally trying at times . why did you feel so passionate about pursuingthis and did you ever consider stopping ? >> i believe she is a former
student of mine. and thank you for the question. i never, it was painful but i neverthought about stopping . what drew as i did this book george was a feeling and a belief, more than a feeling it was a belief, a profound belief that in many ways the most important message of her life was not the public cokie. it's through countless women watched the three of you, four of you on tv every sunday and looked at cokie and said i can be that strong, i can be that smart. i can stand up there with george will and sam donaldson and david brinkley and to be an equal and this was a powerful message to women all over the country but not everybody can be a tvstar . everybody can be a good person. everybody can learn these private acts of charity and goodness and friendship that
she did every single day. you don't have to be a tv start to go to the funeral home of your friend . you don't have to be a tv star to say to a friend you're facing an operation. i'm going to sit in the waiting room until the doctors come out. and is this going to take all day? i'm going to sitthere all day so i can askquestions for you. that does not take being a star. that takes being a good person . as i did this book , that grew as the theme but also as amotivation . because i saw, i started out thinking the most important part of this book was the public cokie. i was convinced the most important part was the private cokie. >> any fool can be a h television star, a great many people are . very few people can do what cokie did in private.
this message from celine costronovo, given her accomplishments how did you decide which stories weremost important ? is there any you left out for space reasons or anything else? >> that's good, cc is also also a former student of mine. and a wonderful writer in her own right and thanks for the question . i'll tell you. i left out a great many stories but there was one that a young producer at abc told me and there were so many stories about cokie helping these young women. she was a baby within the zip code, cokie would scoop it up and there's a woman named karen travers, now white house correspondent for abc and she had twins . and so she was the whole
family was reeling from this and the twins were sick so the whole neighborhood sort f of rallied around and they have to sign up sheet for people that were going to bring food to the travers house every night so cokie signs up. so all her neighbors and friends say karen, is that the cokie roberts? and she says yes, it is. she said but cokie was a very good cook and particularly she used tolove to do old new orleans recipes . she did one of her favorite new orleans recipes for karen. along with that left several bottles of wine.she said the wind is what you need. i didn't have room for that story in the book but i heard so many like that .
there's another story that one of her young friends tells. he was jewish and his baby was born and cokie shows up, she's the first person to show up and she scoops up this baby and says to alana, you don't mind if i do this and baptize the baby and she says cokie, he's jewish. of course i know he's jewish but this can't hurt, we're just covering all our bases and baptized the baby. >> i have 4 questions inthe queue but only time for one more . oh wow, i was able to sign up on time. 15-year-old here . i was wondering when cokie was my age, did she ever feel lost in life as well, that not every goal of yours could ever be achieved. it's kind of daunting and it's wanted me.
>> what a wonderful question and thank you for answering asking. the answer is yes, there were many times she felt daunted particularly growing up in the age that she did. she often felt what i thought i would do is let women of my mother's generation, get married, have kids and support my husband's career she said that's what i wanted, that's what aspired to . and there were many times when she felt discouraged and depressed by discrimination she faced. she was very open about this. but she had enough i guess there are two things, two lessons here to this young lady. one is believe in yourself. and don't ever let other people diminish you or demean you or brand you or tell you you can't do it. cokie would tell you that.
believe in yourself and the other thing she would say is believe in other women. she got the mentorships, she got the help. she got women who don't pull up a broad projection but they helped you up and that's what cokie did her whole life. and it's the most important legacy she leaves behind. she reads the gospel every day. >> the state of the union address live tuesday, march 1 at 8 pm eastern on c-span, c-span.org or on the c-span video app. >> six presidents recorded conversations in office here those conversations on our new podcast, presidential recordings . >> season one focuses on the
presidency of lyndon johnson. go here about the civil rights act, 1964 presidential campaign, gulf of tonkin incident, march on selma and the war in vietnam . not everyone knew they were being recorded . >> lay johnson's secretaries new because they were tasked with transcribing many of those conversations. in fact they were the ones who made sure conversations were taped as johnson would signal to them through an open door between his office and there's. >> also your blunt talk. >> i want to report of the number of people assigned to kennedy the day he died at the number assigned to me now if mine are not blessed i want to bless right-click. if i can't ever go to the bathroom i won't go. i will go anywhere, i'll stay right behind these black gates. >> presidentialrecordings, find it on our mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts .