NPR political correspondent Cokie Roberts died this week, and her passing has been a reminder, not just of Roberts’ contributions to journalism, but also her connection to Alaska.
Roberts’ father, Louisiana Rep. Hale Boggs, was aboard a plane with Alaska Rep. Nick Begich, Begich’s aide Russell Brown, and pilot Don Jonz that went missing on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau in 1972. The plane and the men’s bodies were never recovered, despite a massive effort by military and volunteer searchers.
Cokie Roberts talked about her father’s disappearance in a 1993 interview for the NPR show, Fresh Air:
“The plane left from Anchorage, never arrived in Juneau, and them most extensive search in American history was launched, not only by the good folk of Alaska, who were quite remarkable, but then of course the military was all called in, and then the spy planes all came in. We’re very good spies by the way, it makes you feel better about your tax dollars. The planes from 80,000 feet took incredibly detailed pictures, which literally rewrote the map of Alaska, found inlets that they had never seen before, all kinds of things. And they would sense — you could take some infrared pictures, that kind of thing — and when they would sense something that they couldn’t tell what it was, and send a helicopter down to see what the heat object was, it would often just be a log. Or they did find some World War II wrecks, that kind of thing. I’ve got to believe the plane went to the bottom of the sea. That’s the most likely explanation. It’s also the most comforting.”
Among the children connected by the deaths of their fathers in that plane crash was Mark Begich, who followed his father’s political footsteps and was elected mayor of Anchorage and, later, U.S. Senator.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Begich said the disappearance of their fathers has forever linked the Begich and Boggs families.
“Cokie was one of those that, when you heard her on the radio, it just reminded me of this relationship, connection,” Begich said. “Especially because they have a connection. It’s not just someone that passed through, it’s someone that experienced, as a family, an incredible tragedy, as we did.”
Begich said that, while he was saddened to hear about Cokie Roberts’ death, he hoped stories about her life would remind people of the importance of even-handed, intelligent journalism.
Cokie Roberts was 75.