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It wasn’t long after Cokie Roberts came on PORTRAITS that we learned the sad news of her passing, on Sept. 17. We quickly realized we had great material from our interview with her on First Ladies that never made it into the final edition. So in this episode we reprise some of those special moments— where her smarts, her compassion, and her moxie are on full display.
Journalist Cokie Roberts wished some of the presidents' wives had been painted when they were young and vivacious, before they had grey hair. Perhaps then we might think of them as the trailblazing, politically engaged women they actually were. She described four portraits of four First Ladies who have influenced the United States far beyond their preferences in tableware and drapes.
We recognize the role of first lady as it exists today because of Eleanor Roosevelt. A compassionate and smart woman with an activist spirit, she was not content to just entertain others and serve her husband domestically. She was a public servant intent on sharing her voice with the world in order to do good.
Eleanor Roosevelt's lifelong quest to understand and improve the lives of others began on a local level and gradually expanded to encompass much of the world. In the process, she compelled herself to square off against daunting challenges that stretched her beyond what others thought she could (or should) do.
The White House is not a residence for the meek or the timid; the White House of Gerald and Betty Ford was no exception. President Ford was a star athlete turned politician, while Mrs. Ford was a gifted dancer turned political support team. The Fords stepped up the Washington political and social ladder more than two and a half decades, beginning with Gerald Ford’s election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948.
It has been almost thirty years since President Jimmy Carter and his wife, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, left the White House. In that time, both President and Mrs. Carter have worked tirelessly on humanitarian efforts and both, now in their eighties, continue to work for multiple causes, never assuming that their octogenarian status implies that they should retire or that their work is somehow finished.