TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. We're going to listen back to an excerpt of an interview with Lindy Boggs, the former congresswoman from Louisiana who died Saturday at the age of 97. She had quite a life. Boggs came to Washington in 1941, the year her husband Hale Boggs was elected Democratic congressman from Louisiana. She was 24 years old. Twenty-one years later, on a campaign trip through Alaska, Hale Boggs' plane disappeared, never to be found. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: It was actually 31 years after he began serving his first term. He was elected in 1940 and took office in 1941.]
Lindy Boggs ran for her late husband's seat and won, becoming the first woman elected to Congress from her state. She remained in Congress through 1990. President Clinton appointed her ambassador to the Vatican. Politics was also central to her children's lives. Daughter Cokie Roberts became famous as NPR's congressional correspondent and as an ABC commentator. Boggs' late daughter Barbara was the mayor of Princeton, and son Tommy became an influential lobbyist. I spoke with Lindy Boggs in 1994, after the publication of her memoir "Washington Through a Purple Veil."
How did you see your role as a congressman's wife when you first got to Washington?
LINDY BOGGS: When we first went to Washington, there was a very structured social agenda. You had to call upon the people who were senior to your husband. And when your husband was a freshman member of the House, that was a great number of people. And there were very strict rules. There were calling days. You called on the spouses of the Supreme Court on Monday, the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the Cabinet on Wednesday, the Senate on Thursday, the diplomatic corps on Friday.
You made no calls on Saturday, and you made return calls made to you, accompanied by your husband, on Sundays.
GROSS: When did it stop being that way?
BOGGS: After - well, it was suspended during World War II, of course. And following the war, it was followed somewhat, but the government became so constant and so large, that it was really an impossible situation to have as strict protocol as had existed prior to the war.
GROSS: I want to jump ahead to 1972, when your husband was on a campaign swing through Alaska and his plane disappeared, and neither he nor the plane were ever found. Your whole family went to Alaska shortly after he was declared missing. What was it like for you to go there? And what were you able to do?
BOGGS: Well, we went. We were invited to go, which was a tremendous relief. And...
GROSS: Why was that a relief?
BOGGS: Because you could go to the scene, and be there and feel that if there was any way that you could be helpful, that you were on the scene and able to do so. In addition, it gave us the firsthand knowledge - gave our family the firsthand knowledge of the remarkable kind of search that was launched, unless we'd been on the scene and had the daily briefings and been with the people.
The Air Force had charge of it from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, and the Coast Guard had charge of it from Juneau, and we would have briefings a couple of times a day. We also would have the wonderful pilots who would come off of the flights and take my hands in theirs and say, don't you worry. We're going to find him for you. It was a tremendous consolation.
GROSS: When you decided to run for your husband's seat, did you still hold out any hope that he would be discovered, he would be found?
BOGGS: Yes, I did. I continued to hold out hope for a long time.
GROSS: Was there a time when you knew that you'd stopped hoping?
BOGGS: Not that I'd given up hope, I suppose, but that I had come to perhaps a practical realization. I was a delegate to a World Bank International Monetary Fund meeting in Kenya, in Nairobi. I had accompanied Hale on several trips of that sort, and had been backup for him and helped him with his testimony, and things, and so on. But here I was. I was a delegate. I had the responsibility for making decisions with the United States group. And I think that perhaps that was when the full realization came upon me.
GROSS: That you had this burden on your shoulders.
BOGGS: That I was really - I wasn't a stand-in for Hale.
BOGGS: That I was the member myself.
GROSS: During some of your time in Congress, your daughter Cokie was covering Congress. Your son-in-law Steve Roberts was covering Congress for the New York Times. Then he wrote about Washington for U.S. News and World Report. Was it awkward for you to have two of your family members covering Congress?
BOGGS: No. Because we had a very good relationship, professional relationship, and still kept our loving family relationship. When someone asked Cokie what she liked best about her job, she said giggling with her mother in the speakers' lobby. But they didn't feature me, and I didn't give them any scoops.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
BOGGS: Oh, thank you. It's been a joy to be with you.
GROSS: Lindy Boggs, recorded in 1994. She died Saturday at age 97. You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org, and you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.
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