This article is from Washingtonian’s August 1998 issue.
“Oh look! That’s my Monica Lewinsky pose,” Cokie Roberts says with her earthy, infectious laugh. She’s looking at these pictures taken when she was a 15-year-old senior at Stone Ridge, a Catholic school in Bethesda. The Monica picture is Cokie talking on the phone while reclining on her parents’ bed.
“I sleep in that bed now,” Cokie explains. “It’s an 18th-century rope bed.”
She’s looking at photographs taken nearly 40 years ago for Ingenue, a teen magazine. Cokie is a hometown Washington girl who has done very well. A longtime National Public Radio commentator, she also has settled in with Sam Donaldson as the co-host of This Week, ABC’s Sunday-morning public-affairs show. Her memoir, We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, has hit the bestseller list, and in a recent National Journal survey of senior congressional staffers she was voted the best reporter covering Congress.
What these photographs show is that Cokie, born in New Orleans to a powerful political family, is a real Washingtonian. She grew up here and still lives in the Bethesda home her family moved into when she was eight. She was married in the backyard to columnist and commentator Steve Roberts, and their daughter was recently married in that same backyard.
Cokie is part of an older, gentler Washington where Harvey’s and the Occidental Grill were the special-occasion restaurants and the kids hung out at the Hot Shoppe. Cokie says there were frequent sermons at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church—where she still attends Mass—about “goings-on at the Hot Shoppe. It made us wonder what we were missing,” she laughs.
Cokie was popular at Stone Ridge. Her ability to handle all kinds of situations came from the sisters who taught there and from her mother, Lindy Boggs, now US Ambassador to the Vatican. When the photos were taken in 1959, Cokie’s father, Hale Boggs, was a powerful congressman. Her Bethesda home was filled with such political figures as Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, Sam Rayburn, Hubert Humphrey, and Gerald Ford. To Cokie, her brother, Tommy, and her sister, Barbara, these men were simply family friends who came for dinner.
After her father’s plane was lost on a 1972 flight from Anchorage to Juno in Alaska, Lindy Boggs was elected to his seat and served in Congress until retiring in 1990.
Politics, Cokie says, was the topic of dinner-table conversations. Her mother would take the children out of school to go to Capitol Hill to see important floor debates or hearings.
“Congressional families were close, and we all knew each other. Now they come here saying this is some kind of evil place. Some don’t even bring their families.
“On the Hill at sundown in the old days,” she adds, “they would put down the arguments and pick up the bourbon and branch water.”
Cokie is serving canapés at a Women’s National Democratic Club tea. Her mother, Lindy, who was president of the club, looks on at Katie Louchheim, the club’s vice president. Cokie remembers her dress was blue. “I loved that dress,” she says.
The photo reminds Cokie of all the long evenings she spent talking to girlfriends about boys. “What a nice time it was,” she says. “Now kids do conference calls and e-mail.”
“That was a pale-green prom dress,” Cokie remembers. “Momma made all our dresses and she’d be sewing us in as our dates waited downstairs. We used to tease her years later it was a guarantee of chastity. We were sewn in and couldn’t get out of our dresses.”
Cokie says she spent as much time as possible with her father, Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs. She says she couldn’t wait to be seven so she could take visiting constituents into the House visitors gallery when she was conducting tours of the Capitol.
At Stone Ridge, choir practice was conducted by Sister Claire Kondolf, who now lives in Rome and often sees Cokie’s mother, Lindy, the United States Ambassador to the Vatican. “There I am,” Cokie says, “in a crewneck and kilt with a kilt pin.”