Nina Totenberg Remembers Cokie Roberts, 'The Personification Of Human Decency' Journalist Cokie Roberts died on Tuesday. Fellow NPR "Founding Mother" Nina Totenberg says Roberts was an "always polite political reporter, willing to ask the impolitic question if necessary."
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'The Personification Of Human Decency': Nina Totenberg Remembers Cokie Roberts

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'The Personification Of Human Decency': Nina Totenberg Remembers Cokie Roberts

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Throughout the show today, we're remembering NPR's Cokie Roberts. She was what we call a founding mother of NPR. Nina Totenberg, another founding mother, has this remembrance of her friend.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Our newsroom is in tears. My phone and my email are bursting with more tears. The country has lost a great journalist, but I and so many thousands of others have lost a great friend - yes, thousands of others. Cokie was the embodiment of our better angels, whether it was her work for Save the Children or the millions of kindnesses, large and small, that she dispensed daily without ever thinking that what she was doing was unusual or remarkable. The country knew her as this always-polite political reporter, willing to ask the impolitic question if necessary - this funny, wise, smart woman who could write circles around most reporters.

For the last three years, as she battled the return of a cancer vanquished some 14 years earlier, she carried on. She gave speeches, appeared on TV and radio and even was planning to go to Houston for the debates last week, until her disease finally trumped her grit.

She didn't want people to know she was sick. She loved life, and she was determined to live it as long as she could. And that meant doing what she always did, including being a super wife, mother and grandmother. There was not a chance she was going to cancel commitments, no matter how rotten she felt. There was not a chance that she would just lie in bed. Just 10 days ago, she insisted on going to the movies, as usual, on Saturday night with me, Linda Wertheimer and our husbands. By then, she could barely eat and was in significant pain, but we all had a lovely time - our last time like that.

To know Cokie was to see the personification of human decency. There's a reason she was asked to speak at so many funerals. People felt such a deep connection to her because she touched their lives. Casual friends would find Cokie visiting them in the hospital. People in terrible financial straits would find her bailing them out, hiring them for work that perhaps she didn't need but work that left them with their dignity.

And I - well, I'm not sure how I would have survived the long illness and death of my first husband without Cokie. She went with me to doctors' meetings, took notes, gave people hell if promised services were not delivered. And if, on occasion, she heard my voice faltering on the phone, she would magically appear to bolster my spirits.

On a larger scale, she was always the voice of people with less power and the voice of what's right. I remember one day many years ago when we were in negotiations with NPR management over a labor contract. Management didn't want to extend health coverage to one group, and we were at an impasse. Then Cokie, who was working on a piece of embroidery, looked up at the management team and said, you know the position you're taking isn't immoral; it's simply amoral. The room got very quiet, and soon, the impasse was over.

And of course, she was the voice of women. She understood injustices large and small. She understood the hurdles that blue-, pink- and white-collar women face in raising and providing for a family, in dealing with husbands and bosses. She understood the whole balance of life.

I went to see her last night in the hospital. I'm not sure that she could hear me. But when I said goodbye, I told her I'd see her on the other side at that big broadcasting studio somewhere and that I knew she would still be a star.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Nina Totenberg remembering our colleague and friend Cokie Roberts, who died earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUIET LIFE SONG, "RECORD TIME")

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