Flying Alone: Remembering Cokie Roberts

I’d wanted to be an astronaut since people first started asking me the age-old question, somewhere around kindergarten; just before the start of 8th grade in the summer of 1988, I took a plane on my own for the first time to travel to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Wearing an “I’m flying alone!” button affixed to my t-shirt and an appalling pair of boxer shorts (a deeply unfortunate fad), I was seated next to renowned journalist Cokie Roberts, who was heading to Atlanta to cover the Democratic National Convention and was drafting a news report on Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy.

The specifics of the animated conversation between us — me, a school-age girl dreaming of outer space and Cokie, an accomplished professional dedicated to revealing the political complexities of life here on earth — have long since evaporated. But our conversation absolutely cemented my developing conviction that women really could do important, fascinating things, and brought my two-dimensional history textbook vividly to life. For the first time, I understood what it really meant when a nation debated the essential questions about how best to live and work together.

My experience with Cokie Roberts continued to resonate for the next thirty years: I consider it to be one of the formative “dots” that connect directly to my candidacy, last year, for state representative in Massachusetts.

When we parted ways in Atlanta, Cokie gave me a draft of her upcoming report from the Convention. I’ve always recalled this gift through my seventh grade eyes, thinking of the document as simply a cool artifact from a powerful woman. Only now, in this quiet moment, as I reflect on the life of a great woman lost too early, does it strike me that I somehow internalized the gesture without quite recognizing its significance. With that gift, she made me feel that I was worthy of such things, that I was as real as the work she was doing.

With her voice, so familiar to those who read, watched, and listened to her, Cokie Roberts elevated the voices of so many others. With Cokie in our midst, we were never flying alone.

Thank you, Cokie.

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Allison Gustavson

> teacher > mom > writer > activist organizer > candidate for state rep in coastal Massachusetts > TBD in Colorado foothills >