Robin Roberts brings joy, honesty, and news to millions of loyal Good Morning America viewers each day. When she laughs, we laugh. When she cries, we cry. Roberts has an uncanny way of making us feel her joy and her pain, and her extraordinary brand of journalism can’t be taught in school or learned in a newsroom. Off camera, she is just as humble and authentic as she is on camera. People are naturally drawn to her just as they were drawn to her loving father, Colonel Lawrence Edward Roberts, a man she describes as a true officer and a gentleman.
Although the Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist spent most of her career covering the competitive world of sports, she is just as adept at reporting the unimaginable devastation of Hurricane Katrina or engaging viewers in her lighter on-camera moments as she dines at the White House with the Queen of England. After working as a sports anchor and reporter in several Southern markets from 1983 to 1990, Roberts got her big break on ESPN’s Sports Center as the first African American female anchor, a position she held from 1990 to 2005. She became a featured reporter for Good Morning America in 1995 and continued to work for both ESPN and ABC for years before being promoted to co-anchor of Good Morning America in 2005. With co-anchor, George Stephanopoulos, Roberts led the broadcast back to the top of the ratings in April 2012, making it the number one morning show for the first time in sixteen years.
In Roberts’s eyes, her father was a gentle giant. He was compassionate and although he had a straight-laced, buttoned up persona, and a deep voice, there was a real softness to him. She recalls that her mother would try to discipline her and her siblings, but when their father would walk through the door all he had to do was clear his throat and the kids would scatter. Colonel Roberts was always big about going to church together as a family on Sundays. If the Roberts kids didn’t go to church, they couldn’t play. That was one of his rules. When Roberts was four years old, the family attended a church retreat at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Her parents explicitly told her not to go out to the lake by herself, but she didn’t listen. It was the last day of the church retreat. Colonel and Mrs. Roberts could not find her and quickly went into full panic mode searching frantically for little Robin. Finally, they spotted her sitting at the end of the pier, dangling her feet over the water, swinging her tiny legs back and forth like a pendulum. Her father quietly came up behind her because he didn’t want to startle her and cause her fall into the water. He came up very gently and scooped her up into his warm embrace. This is when they knew she was safe. Roberts thinks that’s what she always subconsciously felt—a warm embrace from her first love, her dad.
Colonel Roberts never had to sit Roberts or any of his children down to talk about going to college or doing something important with their lives. Greatness was just expected. Roberts spent her childhood watching her parent’s example. She remembers a time in college when she had her heart set on buying a motorcycle, and she felt that she needed to tell somebody. So she called her sister, Dorothy, and said, “I saved up my money, and I’m buying a motorcycle. But don’t tell mom and dad!”
Her sister replied, “Oh Robin, why are you doing this to me?”
About an hour later her telephone rang, and Roberts’s roommate announced that her mom was calling. She picked up the phone to talk to her mother. “Dorothy won’t tell us what it is but she said that you’re going to do something you shouldn’t do, so technically she didn’t violate your trust,” her mother said.
Roberts told her mother the truth: “I’m getting a motorcycle tomorrow.”
Immediately her mother put her dad on the phone. Her father firmly said to his youngest child, “Under no circumstances will you buy a motorcycle. No daughter of mine will do that. You know it’s a deathtrap. You have a car to get you from point A to point B. You know, if that’s gonna be the case you can bring that car home, and you can just ride your bicycle to your classes.” Her father went on and on until Roberts relented. “Fine, I won’t buy a motorcycle!” Robin said and hung up.
Many years later, her dad asked her, “Did I handle that right, Robin? Because I really don’t think I handled that right with you.”
Robin replied, “Dad I’m fine! It’s okay. I’ve really let it go.” This lesson and his firm but gentle guidance has always stayed with her.
Knowing that her father came from humble beginnings and went on to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot influenced her to pursue her own dream of becoming a sports journalist. “It was almost like, how dare I not try to do this. My father, who had nothing, went on to do extraordinary things in his life and when we look at the generations of blacks that came before us with very few rights and even fewer resources. How could I not go for it? How could I not try?” Robin shares. Her father’s life and the examples he set, dared Roberts to reach as high as she could to pursue her own passions. Her dad, through his actions and his commitment to giving his very best to his work and his family, taught her that with everything she did she should put forth her best effort.
“My dad never played the race, gender, or any other card. That’s the simple, yet beautiful thing about my father. There was nothing grandiose about Colonel Lawrence Roberts. He was just a good, good, good man.”