Listeners have reacted with sadness to the news that Cokie Roberts, an NPR "founding mother," died this morning of complications from breast cancer.
As one listener wrote to our office, "she had a plumb, level and straight presence that promised that we would get through this hail and lightning storm."
I mostly knew Roberts through my work covering the radio and television world as a newspaper reporter, before I joined NPR (where my role occasionally called upon me to address listener questions about her commentary). Before I met her in real life, however, I knew her as a pioneering woman, one of several in visible roles at NPR. In retrospect, it's because of women like her that I never really doubted when I was an aspiring journalist that there would be a place for me in what was then a male-dominated profession.
As Mara Liaisson told Here & Now today, there was a not-so-pretty reason so many women ended up at NPR in the early days: NPR "paid so poorly back then, and a lot of times when male reporters got to a certain age or got married, had kids, they would leave for a higher-paying job at a television network." (NPR pays competitive salaries today.)
But Roberts, and others — including Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and others — did the work and succeeded, and brought along other women in their wake. Among the many tributes to Roberts pouring forth today, I've noted a thread of just how many women feel they owe their careers in some way to Roberts. Here are just a few reactions from women in the NPR newsroom:
I still can't find the words: mentor, colleague, friend, role model - nothing comes close. My career is because she was. https://t.co/8x2kW2xiqZ— Kenya Young (@nprkyoung) September 17, 2019
I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing now, covering the White House, co-hosting a Podcast, and getting to share it with two awesome kiddos without women like Cokie Roberts blazing the path. And she was totally generous with her time and encouragement for those who followed! 7/— Tamara Keith (@tamarakeithNPR) September 17, 2019
I always meant to tell her - and now I wish I had - @CokieRoberts was an early role model to me from afar, an example of what was possible for women. I didn’t grow up with a lot of professional women around me, but I saw her on TV and remember, as a little girl, watching in awe.— Sarah McCammon📻 (@sarahmccammon) September 17, 2019
We are heartbroken. A legend has passed. When I was in high school I wanted to grow up to be Cokie Roberts. I worked w/her at ABC & NPR. She could intuit whenever I needed a kind word, a nudge that I was doing good work and it made a difference. We will miss her so very much.— Rachel Martin (@rachelnpr) September 17, 2019