tv Steven Roberts Cokie - A Life Well Lived CSPAN January 23, 2022 7:00am-8:01am EST
wife cokie roberts. we're told as an axiom of life never judge a book by its cover. well i have news for you judge this one by its cover. it has the most radiant picture. i was say the most radiant picture of cookie, but she's one of those people it's impossible to take a bed picture of not just because she was a lovely person but because the life force just seemed to pop out of her the camera loved her with
good reason. in the three great love stories of washington history or john and abigail adams jameson dolly madison and steve and cokie roberts and i want to talk about that a little bit and also about koki's tremendous. life, but let's begin at the beginning steve. how did you meet? well, thank you, george and thanks brad. you know we've done cooking. i've done pnp many many times over many years. i'm just sorry we couldn't do it in person tonight, but we deeply appreciate it and brad unless they're all so neighbors of mine. i walk my dog past their house every night and we share this community and coke and i met when i was 19, and she was 18. we were just kids george. we were a student political meeting of all things national student association. i had it was a meeting at ohio
state university and summer of 196. and i was there as a delegate from harvard. she was there as a delegate from wellesley, but she had met my twin brother who had been active in the organization and we weren't identical but we looked a lot alike and she the way she told the story is she looked across the room and saw somebody that looked a lot like mark roberts. but not quite like mark roberts so she comes over and she looks at my name tag and says, oh, are you mark robertson's brother and i had met her older sister barbara who also involved in that organization, and i looked at her name tag, and i said, oh are you barbara box's sister, and that's how we met fortunately. got back to boston and our dorms were only 12.5 miles apart and in boston, and she asked me out we if she was a singer george and as many women at npr were and she was performing in the junior show and so she invited me to come see it and we had
this assumptuous repast afterwards at the local howard johnson's not nothing was too good for koki and so we but her she tells the story or her roommate tells the story of her coming back that night and dancing through the whole singing this song from west side story. i feel pretty i feel pretty and her roommates thinking this is not gonna end well because she was catholic i was jewish and at that moment people thought it was an unsuperable obstacle, but four years later, we made it work. you how important was it in making it work the use you acquired through this marriage a remarkable mother in law. everyone knows congressman. alright, absolutely. this isn't family that i fell in love with my mother-in-law first and then got around to koki and there's it's some truth to that in this house where i'm sitting right now on bradley boulevard about six months after we first
met i hadn't called i was a typical guy. i you know, we had a couple of dates. i thought she was wonderful. i didn't call and then a group of us were coming here to washington to it for another political meeting and it turns out we were supposed to drive in the same car and i remember approaching the car. i hadn't seen her in months. and i remember approaching the car in cambridge, georgia and looking through the back window and seeing her in the back seeing coach and thinking. you idiot. this is the girl and we got in the car. we drove to washington and that night right here just rumor to away from sitting right now because i'm still in this house the family house that the box family bought 1952 on bradley boulevard. and so i i had terrible cost that night because i was spending the winter in boston. so, of course he had a cough all winter and i hear a knock on the door and with 1963 so i i'm pretty sure it's not coqui. and in walks my mother-in-law my future mother-in-law george the
future ambassador to the vatican. okay, the future 18 18 year member of congress and an off-the-shoulder peach colored negligee. i and she says why darling. you sound terrible. drink this which was i'm sure at least two thirds bourbon and i i was stunned i had never met anybody like this and pay on new jersey george and yeah, i did fall in love with my mother-in-law first, but she was so welcoming to me as as a jewish person. she was made it so 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 koki and her mother put on the charm offensive at my father. he didn't have a chance and finally at one point says to me george, you know, it would be so much easier to oppose this marriage if it wasn't so obvious. she's the perfect girl for you.
then. i know it was going to be okay. sorry the cokie when she started out in this business was 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 r murrow from from london during the blitz of i wrong about that. i mean did koki like she did everything she was a writer. she was a television broadcaster and radio would she like best? well, she liked each of them in different ways. she loved radio because she felt she could be more complex in her analysis, you know you and i both know any of us who have been on radio and tv have had the experience people. stop us, you know in the safeway and say, oh i saw you on tv and they say well, you know, you need a haircut right? i like your tie and you say well, what about my brilliant analysis of the federal budget and they have not heard it, but if they if you're on radio they quote back chunks of it to you. and she always felt it radio was this great storytellers medium only one sensory input not the you're not distracted by the
picture. so i mean she saw each medium for what it could do and she understood the differences. when she started writing books and history books. she understood that this was a mechanism by which she could resurrect. the stories of women that had not been told but one of the reasons why she was so keen on writing history. not only because as i mentioned her family have been part of american political history for several generations. our mutual friend steve has at the brookings institution has done a study of prominent families in american history. he's given numerical waitings to each office people were in his original ratings had the roosevelt's number one. the kennedys is number two in the claiborns. cookie's family's number three cokey of course ceases ratings that steve you forgot about six members of my family. and forced you'll be really surprised at this george forrest has to recalibrate his ratings
the claytrans are now number two. so and that's only because the roosevelt's had two presidents and you know, they got a lot of numbers for president. so, where are they atoms? that about four or five but dave petered out in the last century or two there have been too many adams public life, but the claiborns 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 as the modern internship even said it my mother reminds me of valley madison. she said that because she saw these women like lady bird johnson. betty ford, pauline gore who were these enormously important influential figures in washington, but behind the scenes and so that gave cookie a sense of of what role women had always played before this and there's a great story that's told where when lindy decided after hal's death never asked for this but the opportunity to
presented to go from backstage to center stage as a member of congress you besides to run she calls her lifelong friend. maybe her closest friend lady bird johnson. to say bird i want you to know i'm running for health seat. i wanted you to know it from me before you read in the papers and mrs. johnson says why lindy? darling that's wonderful. but how are you going to do it without a wife? what you said by the way about a moment ago about people that remember a word you say on television. there's an old set. you probably heard that it doesn't matter what you wear on radio or what you say on television going you dolly madison actually was quite historically important because james madison who's my hero? he's 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 and wasn't cut out for this in dolly. just made him into a force absolutely. now cookie lived from back when people were really friendly in washington across the aisle. into today, it's just peptic politics. did she say anything late in her life as to how we might get back to where we once were? well, it's a good question, you know part of the the subtext years you point out the way washington worked in an earlier era look neither one of us want to pretend that was some halcya period where you know democratic one of the things was true about washington and that is in that year a lot of the members of the congress brought their families to washington and they lived here. and they were neighbors and
their kids went to the same schools. they went to the same churches and and this had a very beneficial effect in terms of creating these threads of respect and even affection that people had for each other and koki the family really moved into this house when she was 8 next door neighbor right next door was leading official in the republican party cokie babysat for their daughter who then eventually became a republican member of congress joanne emerson from from, missouri and emblematica. this is a wonderful story in the book where betty ford like you remember, of course president ford was one of the republican leaders of the house. also the 60s when my father-in-law was a democratic friends went to china together appeared countless platforms together and betty ford summons coqui when she is planning her funeral and she was the first lady. this is a state occasion, right? and she says koki i want you to
give a eulogy at my funeral. talking about what what the washington was like when we were all growing up here and got to know each other and the relationships across party lines of our families now, this is not asking her to give a speech at the rotary club in grand rapids. this was a eulogy at a state funeral and that's how important mrs. ford thought this relationship was and cokie shared that now whether there's an answer to it, you know in some ways there the the fracturing of the congressional experience and the fact they don't come to washington. there's actually one good reason for it, which is that so many more spouses have independent professions back home. and so and pick up and and just move to washington with their with their husbands. and that's a that's a positive thing, but something really important has been lost and and i think that koki 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 policies but as real people and that certainly was one way that she viewed 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 people sometimes ask me. what do you think about x y or z and i usually say i don't know i haven't written about it yet. i write often less to say what i think about something than to discover what i think about it. sure absolutely the right of book particularly the writing it can take in different directions than you thought was there kind of surprising meandering nature to your writing of this book. that's a good question. yes in one sense several senses, but i'd say the most important was this look i always knew george. how much time and energy and
emotional commitment koki had to her friends? she did something good for someone else every single day. she lived the gospel. and i always knew that but i was not there. when she counseled young women in her office. i was not there when she was at every maternity ward in the what greater washington area scooping up every baby born by a friend of hers. i was not there when she accompanied her friends to their oncology of appointments when they were facing a cancer diagnosis. i was not there when she was went to the funeral of everybody's parents. so i said about trying to hear the stories from the women themselves. i did not want to be the guy who tried to interpret women. so i talked to over 50 of her friends. and i heard stories i had never heard before. countless stories i had never heard before about just tell you one. great friend nina totenberg who
i've mentioned before it was married to a former senator from colorado who you knew because you worked for a senator from colorado at one point and floyd haskell was democrat and nina a husband died much older than he and she was and he died in in maine and they had to transport the his body back here and nina said cokie ran floyd's death. she just did everything for me and then the final act was to go pick out a casket now. you got to be a pretty good friend to say i'm gonna come with you to pick out a casket for your husband, right so they go to college funeral home over on wisconsin avenue and as nina said this rather up sigrious characters trying to sell a more expensive casket that she really wants. and the guy says well miss totenberg. your husband was a very tall man, so he'd be more comfortable
in this more expensive. oh my and sanita and cokey look at each other and they burst out laughing now as nina says you got to be a really special friend not only to be there. at that moment of such pain and stress but to see the humor in it, right? so and i heard a lot of stories like that that i had never heard before. well on that light note and passing over the fact that haskell beat my senator. i know returns. let's go to some questions. there's one here from margaret lensner. how much was cookies all female education instrumental informing her professional career success through determination and self-confidence. well, i know margaret lensner and i and it's a good question. thank you margaret the it was very important to her. she never went to school at any level with met her. she was taught by nuns through
the 12th grade then went to wellesley and she often said that my role models of authority and inspiration were all women. and particularly on the high school level because she always said she remained a devout catholic her whole life, and it was not easy being a thinking woman in the catholic church, and she said, you know that the nuns used to say to us, you know, you can grow up to be anything. you want except a priest and and she was furious about that and and she was once asked what would you change in the catholic churches that are ordained women first thing she said but because there were women there women were sources of authority of inspiration of role models. they were very important to her all through but her brother and all this her older brother and sister had gone to catholic colleges, too. 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 roast. it took cokie to college. he was the baby the fall of 1960
right before the kennedy and nixon election, and they're driving off the wellesley campus after dropping kokila. my mother-in-law turns to my father-in-law starts stopping and says, i've left my baby at a yankee protest. republican school and i always said to my mother which was the worst of the three joe's changed the jewish son-in-law strike for he wasn't even in the picture yet, but wellesley and and stone ridge were extremely important in her upbringing. ryan lee wants to know what are one or two lessons that you know about marriage now that you wish you had known when you and cokie first married. he well, of course, we've written a book about marriage and i there's an adage that i've repeated many times which is that you can tell a healthy relationship. it doesn't have to be a marriage but a relationship a partnership. you can tell a healthy one by the number of teeth marks in your tongue george from biting it on a regular basis.
i think that candor is vastly overrated now, i don't mean to seat of course. i don't mean secrets what i mean is often when someone says i'm going to tell you what i really think what they virtual they're being selfish and can be cruel and they can say things that you never quite rollback, but so i think gentleness thoughtfulness respect don't always say the first or even the second thing that pops into your mind. mary dura wants to know how is the nickname koki derived from mary martha corrine? well and korean was kind of her give a name, but her brother couldn't really pronounce corine. so it got to be coqui but her grandmother who also was named corrine was called coco so it wasn't a big it wasn't a big stretch, but when she first went on there so public radio frank mankowitz was in the head and he thought cokie was not a serious name for a serious journalist, and he thought npr how to be serious and he actually objected
this too cutesy so koki, you know as you well know how to devilish sense of humor and she said, all right pal and she goes on one night and says signs off and this is mary martha corine morrison claiborne boggs rob recorded at which point frank says, okay and cody turned out to be great for her because she was the only one and there are great and she almost became, you know, like madonna one name everybody knew koki and he held up the you know, they held up the book earlier and there it is coke. everybody could read like to that name. she was many dogs names for koki at least one dairy cow that i know of and she was a constant source of crossword puzzle clues because five letters clka fits very well into many crossword puzzles. mary castranuvo. hope i've got that right probably didn't we'd like to know he says it's still not easy being a thinking person in the catholic church, lol. how did you with the more recent
alignment with the far right the far political right among many us bishops? well you know she was um she tried not to get involved in partisan politics, but she had i can say that very clearly she said over and over again. i am not going to let the bishops. drive me out of this church. it's my church. i have a personal relationship to jesus and to god and that's how i was taught. that's how i was raised. that's what i believe and that's what i'm going to do. and so she struggled with that. but as i've said because one of the reasons why she remains a loyal to her school stone ridge and we've recently as a family donated a new theater at that school the koki boggs roberts theater, which is just opened
this fall because that was the place because this was an institution where her face was most alive for two reasons first solo was it was an institution run by and four women, but also it was an institution focused on the gospel. she said from the time i was a small child. i was taught by the nuns. to those to whom much is given much is expected. it's the most basic catechism. that's taught right right there with the golden rule and she lived it. she lived it every day george so she found a way to separate the hierarchy and the politics of the church from her personal faith and value systems. ira pilaire says i remember reading an article you steve wrote for the new york times magazine many years ago about a jewish boy marion and non-jewish girl. it was a wonderful piece and never forgot at any other religious tidbits you can offer. well, i was asked by rabbi the other day when these book talks.
she said what advice would you give to so many of her congregates? so under parishioners were jewish families with children who were involved in on the relationships with non-jeries parties? and i said, my answer is embrace it. respect it the way we were able to do this was focus on what we shared not the labels or the expectations of the prejudices people tried to impose honest, you know, you sit around the kitchen table george you do not talk about theology. maybe you do but most people just and you talk about how we're gonna raise the kids, you know, you've raised your own family, you know that you talk about what? what are our real values you don't talk about theology or doctrine and people try to impose that on us. so what we learned was if we if we struggle and it took four years big struggle, but if we focused on our commonalities, you know, one of the interesting things about it was that she was
a draft catholic. i was not a religionist, but i was deeply committed to my judaism as a tribal and historical identity. my grandfathers had fled east in europe religious and political programs of eastern europe. i had one of my grandfathers was an early zionist 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 own people our own tribes our own traditions and then in some ways made it easier because that created an understanding and respect i knew where she was coming from and she know where i was coming from but you know, don't let other people define you and don't let other people impose a prejudices on you. focus on each other colin murphy asks, how did you and koki work through changes in your professional statues over the years you mentioned your new york times career initially was the priority and you've written
and spoken before about how that shifted over time. how did you two try to find that balance? someone asked me in an interview the other day, what would you say to other other men who were married to such powerful women and my answer was? be grateful because you have a lifelong partner. you know, i i know your wife mari. i know that youtube share that same kind of relationship. she's very prominent, you know, republican political strategist i met or when she was a source of mind. she worked in the you know in the reagan white house, and i i, you know, look, i am not here to pretend. that was easy george. i'm not here to pretend that. it was without a bumps in the road and she became more famous earned a lot more money than me. i had to accept the fact that i was no longer the most well known or the best paid member of
the family and i had to deal with you know, typical male ego issues, but i give her the real credit for it because never once in all of those years of her skyrocketing popularity, whichever you use it as leverage in the relationships, you never whether it was her fame or in she never used it that way and you know, we had known each other a long time and we had have 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 as that involved as many troubles as that. it gave us the confidence that we could solve problems together and it gave us an understanding how to do it. and so when we hit those rough patches and there was a rough time, you know, not only did she become famous at that. i left a new york times. both of our kids went away to
college all of the states of a couple of years. and any one of those traumas could destabilize her relationship and we had three or four of them all at the same time. my father died all happening at the same time. but i give her most of the credit. she kept it. she was the one who kept us on it even came. an anonymous attendee wants to know what advice could you offer about grieving the loss of a spouse? well grief is the most personal and the most universal of human emotions and rituals not everybody. graduation college not everybody gets married. not everybody has a child neither. everybody is confirmed of our misfit everybody every single person grieves often many times in their lives. and it's the most personal and the most universal so i hesitant to give advice for me. for me the answer was to embrace
not dismissed to embrace her story to celebrate her story i can hardly help it. i'm sitting here not only in the house that we lived in together for 42 years. but i can look out and it's dark now, but i can look out the window right over there 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 help me get through the grief other people do it in their own way, but i've been very fortunate to have the book. as a way of grieving in a way of celebrating it's been a got me, not only through the grief, but it's got me through covid, you know, which came on top of the greeks. i mean the coqui died six months before covid happened and i think it would have been doubly
isolating and difficult without the book but every day no matter i had something important to do and and that was remember her look there were and there were times. it was very painful george. you know every interview i did including you know, the one i did with you and others. almost everyone ended in tears mine and the people i interviewed and i kid only half kiddingly that i needed a waterproof keyboard for my computer to write this book because i there were days when i wept through the writing process. but it was it was very sustaining. related question from joan kung. how did koki her mother and siblings cope with her father's death in abstention. well, it was a deeply painful story and probably some of our listeners know it and some don't. he was killed in a plane crash in alaska while campaigning for a fellow member of congress. it was october of 1972.
and the plane was never found. most people think that it plunged into prince william sound thank several hundred feet of water. so we had months of this enormously painful limbo when and coke never fully got over her father's death. she deeply grieved the fact that our children were two and four when he died. so they would have no memory of him. he would not see her children grow up. um, and she said something that was so poignant. when we moved back into this house this childhood house. we left for 11 years. we bought the house in 1977 from her mother. and she said, you know. i know it was crazy, but i couldn't bring myself to change the wallpaper in the kitchen. because i had this totally irrational. belief that my father might actually show up one day.
and if he saw that the wallpaper had been changed he'd think strangers were living in the house. mmm, goodness and so and and that was not the only early deaths that left her deeply wounded her all your sister barbara died at 51 of cancer, and she has written about how and i quoted in the book that she said i never 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 port somewhere and she said the the empty chair. barbara's empty chair has just always been a powerful reminder. to me of how fleeting life is sometimes people have said to her you know. garbage dancer her own illness. does it remind you of mortality
and how precious life is and she says god i don't need any more reminders. i've had plenty of reminders about how precious life is and how fleeting it can be. a taha anwar wants to know this your love for koki shines through and every page of your book, but i imagine that writing her story must have been emotionally trying at times. why did you feel so passionate about pursuing this undertaking and did you ever consider stopping? i believe taha is a former student of mine and and thank you for the question. i never it was painful, but i never thought about stopping. what grew as i did this book george? was feeling in a belief more than field is a belief. profound belief that in many ways the most important message of her life was not the public.
okay. yes, it is true. countless women watched the three of you the four of you on tv every sunday and looked at koki 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 being equal and this was an enormously powerful message to women all over the country, but not everybody can be a tv star. 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 star to go to the funeral home with your friend and pick up that casket you do not have to be a tv star. to say to a friend you're facing a an operation. i'm going to sit in the waiting room until the doctors come out and is it's going to take all day. i'm gonna sit there all day so that i can be there and ask questions for you that does not take being a start that takes being a good person and as i did this book that grew as a theme
but also as a motivation. because i saw you know, i sort of started out thinking that the most important part of this book was the public hockey. i finished it convinced that the most important part of the book is the private coach. actually any -- fool can be a television star great many people are given the opportunity but very few people can do what koki did in private given coke, this is from celine castronovo given koki's accomplishments and full life. how did you decide which stories were most important to put in the book? is there one you left out that? say well for space reasons or anything else that give it to us now. yeah, that's good that cc think that's also a former student of mine named cece. wonderful young writer in her own right and thanks for the question the i'll tell you just there. i i left out a great many
stories, but there was one that a a young producer at abc told me and there were so many stories about cookie helping these young women and she was she was a baby freak george. she if there was a baby within the zip code. i mean koki, you know with scoop it up and there's a young woman named karen travers who now the white house correspondent for abc she had twins and and so and and she was the whole family was, you know, really from this and then and the twins were were sick. and and so she the whole neighborhood sort of rallied around and they had to sign up sheet for people were going to brinfood to the traverse house every night. and so coqui signs up and so all of her neighbors and friends said, karen is that the cokie roberts who signed up to bring you dinner on thursday night? and karen said well, yes, it is since and she said so koki makes
cookies a very good cook and and particularly she used to love to do old new orleans recipes so she did. yeah, one of her favorite old new orleans recipes for karen brought over a pot of this and along with the and left it on the front stoop, but along with that left several bottles of wine and said karen, i think the wine is really what you really need to get through this time with these babies and i didn't have room for that story in the book, but i heard so many like that. is another the there's another story that one of her young friends tells who was jewish and and this baby was born and in koki shows up. she's the first person to show up at every maternity ward and so she scoops up this baby and she says to alana well, you don't mind if i do this and starts baptizing the baby and while it says it's my you know cookie, you know that he's jewish and cookie. so, of course, i know he's jewish alana, but this can't hurt. we're just covering all of our
bases and baptize the baby. i'm afraid we have other questions in the queue, but only time for one more and this is from itzel ramirez. marenko moreno. oh, wow, i was able to sign up on time 15 year old here. i was wondering when koki was my age. did she ever feel lost in life as well that not every goal of yours could ever be achieved that kind of and it's kind of daunting on me. oh, what a wonderful question and and thank you for asking. the answer is yes. there were many times when she felt daunted particularly growing up in the age that she did. she often said, you know, mike what i thought i would do was what women of my mother's generation had done. i'd get married have kids and support my husband's career because that was my future. that's what i wanted. that's what i i aspired to. and you know there were many times when she felt discouraged
and depressed by the discrimination she faced. he was very open about this, but she. she had enough. i guess there are two things two lessons here to this young lady. one is believe in yourself and and don't ever let other people. diminish you or demean you or brand you or tell you you can't do it cookie would tell you that believe in yourself? and the other thing she would say is believe in other women. seek out the mentorship seek out the help. she got women who? don't pull up the garbage after them, but put a ladder down to help you up and that's what koki did her whole life. and it's the most important legacy should leave behind.