The Washington Post
Back in 1990, Spy magazine ran a full-page cartoon under the headline: "Cokie Roberts - Moderately Well Known Broadcast Journalist or Center of the Universe?"
It was a diagram with Cokie's name in the middle and a web of lines connecting her to - well, pretty much everyone. The Kennedy and Rockefeller families. Movie stars. Diplomats. Presidents. Rock singers. Media luminaries.
This was, I suppose, a commentary on celebrity. In those pre-Internet days, we had a different concept of what it meant to be an "influencer."
But for people such as me who were fortunate enough to have felt Cokie's influence as we learned to navigate Washington, she represented something else. She taught me by her example that the greatest skill that any reporter can have is an ability to remain grounded.
She won plenty of prizes for her work, and blazed a path for others, particularly women. But what distinguished her journalism was not sensational scoops, or the kind of thing that goes viral today and is gone tomorrow. It was consistency and common sense.
When I was starting out as a reporter on Capitol Hill, we would often have lunch together at a table set aside for the press in the House restaurant. I loved to hear her talk. She knew all the back stories of Washington, had a deep understanding of its institutions and was generous in sharing her insights with those of us still trying to figure out how the place worked.
No doubt part of that was built into her DNA as the daughter of two members of Congress. But somehow, she never became jaded or lost her ability to appreciate big things and small ones. Once, as we were trudging down the stairwell that leads from the lobby off the House Chamber, she paused and called my attention to the tiny cherub statues embedded in the cast-iron railings - something I had passed hundreds of times and never noticed. "Look at their little bottoms," she said. "Aren't they adorable?" I never walked that way again without thinking of Cokie.
The humanity that her viewers and listeners sensed in Cokie was genuine. As her close friend Nina Totenberg wrote: "To know Cokie was to see the personification of human decency. There is a reason she was asked to speak at so many funerals. People felt such a deep connection to her because she touched their lives."
Cokie was also hilarious. When I was recuperating from cancer surgery in 1988, Cokie arrived in my hospital room at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center with the two things I needed most at that moment - fresh reading material and fresh gossip. She stayed for hours, perched at the foot of my bed. I don't remember much of what we talked about that afternoon, but I will never forget how much we laughed.
My name would never have ranked among those in that magazine cartoon. But at a time when the center of my universe seemed dark and scary, I was happy that Cokie Roberts was there to make it bright again.