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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

At Howard, Mom fell for a handsome student named Lawrence Roberts. World War II interrupted their courtship. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private and in 1944 entered the training program for the Tuskegee Airmen, our country’s first black military pilots.

“I had to wait till the war was over to marry your father,” Mom reminded us. “Any notion that a groom should not see his bride before the wedding we had to dismiss because we were too busy setting up chairs and tying crepe paper bows to the branches of the apple tree.”

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Mom and Dad moved 27 times in the course of his 32-year career. In those early days, the armed services were newly integrated, and Mom was usually the only nonwhite officer’s wife.

Times had changed so much by the time I came along (I’m the youngest of four) that it wasn’t until I read her book that I truly understood the anger and hurt she felt at being excluded, being stared at, having the room go silent when she walked in.

The loneliness was tremendous. My brother, Butch, the oldest, was just a toddler when Mom and Dad were stationed in Japan.

“Nothing prepared me for the isolation I felt as the only black woman on a base in a foreign country,” she says. What did she do? She met God at their special place.

“The base chapel was always open and I’d slip in and play the piano,” she says. She’d sing her favorite hymns. “After an hour I felt revived.”

It’s no wonder then that church on Sundays was mandatory for us Roberts kids. A cold was no excuse. The three of us girls, Sally-Ann, Dorothy and I, had to wear our white bobby socks and best dresses too.

For some families, it’s the three R’s. For us it was the three D’s: Discipline, Determination and Da Lord.

Not that Mom was dignified and disciplined all the time. Dad retired as a colonel in 1975 at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. My parents settled down on the Gulf Coast in the town of Pass Christian, Mississippi, where I went to high school and the place I call home.

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I didn’t go far for college—Southeastern Louisiana University, less than 100 miles away. I played basketball and Mom and Dad loved to come to my games. Even retired, Dad was all military and buttoned up. Not Mom. She was loud.

“I’m not sitting next to her!” he’d tease. So he’d sit at one end of the gym and she’d sit at the other. I could pick out her voice, leading the cheering. “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar,” she’d get everybody to shout, “all for Southeastern, stand up and holler!”

The only time I can think of Mom taking me down a notch was several years ago after a commencement speech I gave. I thought I’d done a good job, talking about what I’d accomplished, what I’d learned, how I’d dealt with adversity.

Mom, though, was quiet. Finally I asked what was wrong. “You forgot to mention all the people who have helped you,” she said. “We never do it just on our own. There are all those people behind us, our teachers, coaches, pastors, mentors.”

And our parents. Come to my dressing room at the GMA studio, and you’ll see a lot of Mom and Dad. Photos, a favorite quote of Mom’s, models of the airplanes Dad flew.

Dad died in October 2004 at age 81. A heart attack took him in the middle of the night. Mom was griefstricken. I didn’t know how she was going to cope. I wasn’t sure how I would.