My Mother, My Inspiration

The popular broadcaster pays tribute to the one person she'd most like to interview.

By Robin Roberts, New York, New York

As appeared in

Robin Roberts’ mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts, passed away not long after this story appeared in the August 2012 edition of Guideposts.

I’ve interviewed many inspiring people on Good Morning America—world leaders, sports legends, heroes.

Still, there’s one interview I’ve always wanted to do, one person I wish would sit down with me on the show, except she’d be embarrassed by the attention and insist there were far more deserving folks.

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That’s my mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts. She’s led a remarkable life. Believe me, she’s truly deserving.

I’m not just saying that because she’s my mom and I love her. She has lived so many of the events that shaped this country—from the Great Depression to the civil rights era—and faced many challenges.

But Mom would much rather ask about you than talk about herself (maybe that’s where I get my interviewing skills from) and share an uplifting story she’s read than tell her own.

Whenever someone in our family wanted to hear more about her life, she’d say, “Someday I’ll write a book and put it all down.”

Now at age 88, she has. My Story, My Song was published this spring, and the title could not be more fitting. Music is my mother’s joy in times of celebration and her comfort in times of heartache.

She knows that “Wherever I am, God is,” just as the prayer of protection she taught me says (the prayer I start my day with).

Still she likes having a special place to meet with God. The piano has been that place for her ever since she taught herself to play by ear as a little girl in Akron, Ohio.

Mom grew up beyond poor. Her father lost his job in the Depression and turned to drinking.

One of her earliest memories was seeing strangers carting off her parents’ bedroom furniture. Then the living room sofas went, the crystal doorknobs, the rugs. The electricity and gas were turned off.

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Her mother, determined to keep a stable home for the children, got a job cleaning houses for a dollar a day.

My grandmother had, as Mom puts it, “the most marvelous way of taking what life served her and making the best of it.” She held the family together and showed her children that success wasn’t about money. What counted was your character and faith in God.

The family was in church every Sunday, and that’s where Mom learned to sing the spirituals and hymns that she says are “like a prayer with a melody.”

I knew Mom would be proud to share stories about her mother, but I was surprised to see how openly she wrote about her father’s troubles. I hadn’t realized the extent of it until I read a draft of her book.

“You’re really going to tell everyone your dad was an alcoholic?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “And I’m also going to tell them how he found the Lord and quit drinking.”

Faith definitely transformed my grandfather’s life. I don’t remember him as an alcoholic. What I remember is him counseling people and preaching the good word from the pulpit on Sundays.

In second grade Mom was assigned to Miss Schnegg’s class. The teacher saw something in the bright little girl with the lovely voice and mentored her all through high school.

Grandma valued education, but since her own didn’t extend beyond sixth grade, it was Miss Schnegg who pushed Mom to set her sights high and take college prep classes. Who helped her get a scholarship to Howard University and become the first in her family to go to college. Who inspired Mom to go into teaching and later chair the Mississippi Board of Education.