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.

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The mother of Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts details her challenges, triumphs and how faith has given her hope.

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.”

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.”

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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.

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.”

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The mother of Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts details her challenges, triumphs and how faith has given her hope.

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.

Mom wasn’t up to hosting Thanksgiving, so I asked her to visit me in New York. Diane Sawyer, my dear friend and colleague, was having people over and invited us. “We don’t have to go, Mom,” I said. “We can do something small.”

“I want to go,” Mom said. She has never been shy about meeting people.

At dinner we went around the table and everyone shared a reflection. Mom, it’s all right, I thought. You don’t have to say something so soon after Dad’s death.

Right there at the table Mom began to sing in a soft, true voice, “By and by, when the morning comes, when the saints of God are gathered home...”

At the chorus another beautiful voice joined in. Diane’s. “We’ll tell the story of how we’ve overcome, for we’ll understand it better by and by.”

The comfort of Mom’s faith was so strong I felt it too. Even more so a few years later when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I woke up from surgery and saw her sweet face looking at me. She’d been praying for me.

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She held my hand, stroking it as only a mother can, and I knew the healing process had begun.

Remember how I said Mom would be too embarrassed to be interviewed on Good Morning America? She says it’s because her book isn’t about her as much as all those who’ve helped her along the way. And I mean all.

When I was home for New Year’s, Mom dictated the acknowledgments to me. She went on and on. “You don’t have to mention everyone you’ve ever met, you know,” I said.

“These people are important to me. I can’t leave anyone out,” she insisted.

Then I went back to New York and she called me and added more names! I was about to tell her to stop when it hit me. Why put a limit on gratitude?

Mom’s right. We sing the melody to our life’s song, but the people who touch us provide the harmony. And underneath it all, guiding us and supporting us, is the rhythm of our faith.

Watch as Robin Roberts describes seeing her mother's comforting face following Robin's surgery.

Visit our Robin Roberts Pinterest board.

Read an excerpt from My Story, My Song.


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Your Comments (34)

Standing in my mother's dress I feel her sweet caress
blowing through me like a storm from the east
whisper to me all your dreams
I'll keep them safe here in the seams
somehow you have thought them out of reach

holding onto apron strings
it's funny what nostalgia brings
I remember wanting to be just like you
though lines across your face appear
they represent you're worried
don't pick me up for I must learn to fall

but mother, mother do I make you proud
mother, mother, mother do I make you proud of me

all the strength that you possess
I feel it here inside this dress
I am myself because of who you are
I wonder where your spirit lies
but I see it clearly in your eyes
I am alive inside because of you

More lyrics:
All about Michelle Featherstone:

This song spoke to me when my mother died. The world looses so much when our mothers journey onward.

I had liver and ovarian cancer diagnosed October 2004. I was given about 7 months more to live. I actually went into remission and have had seven more good years. This December 2012 has been hard...I have felt sick, weak, and in pain just like in 2004. They find nothing...just like in 2004. I know my own long did it take them to find your second bout with the enemy? I think that's the hardest part...not knowing and everyone thinking you are depressed or a hypochondriac. I guess I need advice on how you faced the second attack and how you let the people (friends and family know how you felt.} I am so sorry about the loss of your mom. I lost my mom too and miss her terribly, especially now. I am 70 years old and have had a good life.

Dear Robin,
Hello. I don't know you very well, but I wanted to tell your something. You are amazing. You are incredible. I read your story in Guideposts and how your mom is your inspiration, The prayer The Light of God surrounds me. Love of God enfolds me,. The Power of God protects me. The Presence of God watches over me. The Mind of God guides me. The Life of God flows through me. The Laws of god direct me. The Power of God abides within me. The Joy of God uplifts me. THe Strength of God renews me. The Beauty of God inspires me. Wherever I am, God is!is what I say every morning. We can only depend on God for strength to face whatever comes next.
I am a wodowed, have been for 22 years. This prayer has given me strength on the days that I would rather stay in bed. I too, have someone that inspires me; my children. I have 5 and 10 grandchildren. We all need someone that we can count on and my family is so supportive. They take me shopping, to parks, to dinner, you name it, and they take me. They call me every day to make sure I am safe. I am a religious person and believe that God has blessed me.
Robin, Cancer is one of the scariest words to hear, it leads to a loss of health, comfort and time. Emotions can be intense, fear, anger, sorrow, or other feelings may be present. Your faith in God will enable you to face the unknown.
Feel better, smile and keep your spirits. You are great, and that's all that matters. We both have special people in our lives that inspire us and know that we are loved every day by them and God.
God Bless you!

I read your wonderful story about your Mom and then saw the notice of her death. I am keeping you in my prayers. My Mom died in 1993, but I still feel her presence around me. Never forget that God has his angels surround you in your time of need.

I had missed you on the show this week Robin and wondered where you were. I am so sorry about your loss, may God"s strength bring you comfort during this period of loss. God is with you and your mom, remember earth's loss is heaven's gain.

Your Mother gave you "ALL" of her Love. She Loved you SO, Much, She lead you in the rite direction to our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ. No better way to Love your Children. Wow~ Your Mother was such an Inspiration to so many people on The Mississippi Gulf Coast. Your family is OUTSTANDING & Such Amazing Inspiration to all of us... We On the Mississippi Gulf Coast Love you & your Family, Robin! If you or your family need anything Please, Let us know..At such a Difficult time on the Coast, Your having to go through loosing your Mother, I'm so very sorry for your loss~ My heart aches for your pain. I can't imagine what you must be going through. "Heaven" just gained another Fabulous Angel... My family & I are So,Sad to hear your facing another battle with your Health Robin. Sweetie~ As you know this, God is your Pilot, He is going to see you & Sally Ann through this next Storm. Jesus loves us so much. Robin you & Your sister will glide through this Storm. Living on the Coast myself, I've ALWAYS herd the saying, What doesn't kill us, Only makes you stronger. I myself have gone through so much with Breast Cancer & coming SO, Close to Death this past year. I now understand this saying! I myself' feel, I'm some what stronger in a lot of way's. The most ways, I find stronger is the gift of Love & understanding, I have for others is so much Stronger. I now do not take life for Granted. But see, The Beauty On Earth God has giving each of us. It's free & it's every where. I'm still so weak in So, Many way's. I find you to be such an Inspiration for myself. I pray, if I face any more battles with this storm, I've battled with Breast Cancer. I have the Strength & Courage that you have to fight.. Robin, You're such a Blessing & Inspiration to so many. I'm not sure you REALLY Realize just how much you mean to so many of us... Put your body of Armor on & fight. Hold your head high sweetie, Your Angel will be sitting on your Shoulder every step of the way! Jesus had this all planed out along time ago~<3~ My Prayer to Jesus will be that you & Sally Ann will be back to your health very Soon. I Pray that Jesus will guide you & Your family through this storm every step of the way .My pray to Jesus is That he will Somehow give you, all of the Courage, All of the Strength,All of the Love, All of the Hope, All of the Faith & All of the Happiness You need along the way. We Simply Love you & Your Family Robin Roberts.....<3
Victory will be in Jesus Christ<3

So very sorry for the loss of your mom, Robin. You are such an inspiration. You are so strong in many ways.You faith will get you through this loss and what you are about to go though with your treatment.. I'll keep you in prayer

robin and family, you are in our thoughts and prayers, god had a new role for your mother, now they will guide you and your sister upon this journey you are about to take, always remember mom is watching, love you, and in our thoughts and prayers.......


I'm so sorry to hear about your dear mother. May God be with you and your family at this time. God has a plan for her she is your new angel to watch over you and your sister while you go through your journey for your health. My prayers are with you. May God bless you and your family

Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration to all of us. May God be with you as you grieve the loss of your mother, and as you go through your treatment. I pray for healing and a speedy recovery. God be with you alwaysis my prayer!

Robin an Mrs. Roberts, the bond that you two have is like the bond I had with my mom. She was my best friend an glory in my life that God gave me. I lost my mom Feb. 2012. My mom had breast twice an never let it beat her, she was a very strong women, the second of 16 children. I could go on an on. My mom passed away from heart failure. I just want to give my thoughts an prayers to you both. I will be praying everyday that all goes well for you Robin,an the angels to look over your mother. Blessings,faith, an hope to you an your family an the beautiful gift from your sister. Gods love an strenght will provide. Robin

Your story and your mother are so inspiring. I have watched you for years and you have never failed to make my day! As a long time nurse I know the battle you are facing and I want you to know that I am sending prayers your way. May your recovery be swift and lasting is my sincere prayer. God bless you and yours!

I am a avid fan of Robin Roberts as talented anchor on Good Morning America. With her beautiful st rong spiritual essence she brings out the total best in each and every person she interviews and the out pouring of her love for her hometown community and her personal friends and family is inspiring.

To God be the Glory Great things He has done and going to do for you two Women of Faith. That is what I see. Two women giving praise to the Father and great Faith you have to believe. I thank God for you both and the testimony you have given in your life time. Thanks to your wonderful mother and thanks to you for being such a light to all in the public eye Robin...prayers and thoughts to the both of you. God Bless

This is a wonderful story about your mom. I'm happy for her that she was able to face all odds & adversities in her life with courage & faith in God. You must have live a life of values. That's what we try to instill in our young ones now. We try to teach them patience, when everyone are in a rush, instant gratification., all this modern technologies, has its good & bad outcomes.But we all strive for the good in everyone of our children, that they will live a healthy & good life. I haven't read your mom's book but it must be a great one. More power to you & hugs to your mom. May God bless your family.

Thank God for good mothers. Your story was awesome and inspiring."His eye IS on the sparrow"

I absolutely enjoyed reading the excerpts from the book. Great display of faith, something for us all to walk away with! God Bless You, Woman of God!!!

I just finshed reading Mrs.Roberts wonderful stroy of her life. I don't know how she endured everything she went through and turned out to be such a strong and amazing woman. God Bless her. I love starting my day off listening to Robin in the mornings. She is such a strong and amazing lady.
What a beautiful family that Mr. and Mrs. Roberts had. We in WV will keep both you wonderful ladies in our Prayers. Love and respect you very much Robin.

I'm so encouraged by Mrs. Roberts's faith and gratitude. She continues to demonstrate tremendous resolve. I draw strength from reading about her time in Japan--it takes true courage to face discrimination and bias, but continue to positively move forward with one's life. Thank God for her.

This story is such an inspiration to mothers and daughters. Too many people think that faith is becoming a silent voice. Then, out steps this beautiful woman engaging the world with her quiet spirit, child-like faith and voice of gratitude. What a blessing her words will be to every reader!

There are no words to express the bond I feel with Ms Roberts though we have never met. When her father died I cried with her, when the hurricane ruined her home town I "traveled with her" each day as she helped rebuild her beloved home. The friendship she shared with Diane Sawyer was real and made us all feel part of it. When she was stricken with Breast cancer I prayed for her healing and strength and watch with pride as she kept going through it all on National TV.
I understand her Mother's love as my oldest daughter has been stricken with breast cancer also and is going through chemo and then radiation now. I too was at the hospital when my daughter awoke.
She may be famous, but more importantly she is real and now reading her "interview ideas" with and about her Mom I understand more clearly where her realness is coming from. It is so gratifying to have such people to look to these days. Thank you Mrs Roberts for raising such a wonderful woman.

I cannot put into words how much I admire Robin Roberts. How I wish I could be like her. Her beauty, her faith, her courage, her dignity, her professionalism, her family, and her whole being just radiates hope. I would so love to be blessed with the opportunity to someday meet this awesome lady. I would be completely speechless to actually see this awesome incredible human being. I am just in awe of her. I wish I could be as incredible as is. I love her so much.

I have placed a hold on her mother's book, My Story, My Song, as I am not able to buy the book at this time.

Thank you Miss Roberts, and to Guideposts for the opportunity to grow in God's love.

Gail Hood


You are a wonderful daughter from a wonderful mother.

Thanks Robin for sharing about your mother! I too wish that my Mom had written a book. I know lots of the general "stuff" but sure wish I had more of the details. She passed away 22 years ago but I still miss her lots. I pray that all goes well for both you and your mother.

Our parents grew up in a difficult by awesome time in the life of our country. We need to return to the values these wonderful people had and shared with us, to put our country back on a path to greatness again. Robin, we pray for your return to good health.

Can not wait to read this full article & book. Thanks for the inspiration you bring to us.

Wow! I just feel like am reading a story about my own family, the deep rooted family values has made us who we are today. Robin am always praying for you, enjoy your mom for she is special. "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones". Proverbs 16:24.

I really admire Robin Roberts and now her description of her wonderful mother shows me why I love Robin. Robin if you read this I can't begin to tell you how I love to start my morning with you. I have to read your mother's book.
I appreciate you sharing with all of in the women's magazine. Thank for being there for our mornings and for sharing your life with all of us.

Precious!!! Can't wait to read it!!! Amazing how much struggling & tragedy teach us & form us...Amazing how some choose to make it into a lesson to better themselves & some use it as an excuse to do harm & blame others. Love her inspirational story & the way she has raised her children.

What a lovely tribute to Mrs. Roberts. She is truly a wonderful, strong lady and no doubt the reason she has such a strong, faithful daughter. God Bless

I look forward to reading the book too. Sorry to hear of Robin's mother's health concerns... The family is in my prayers as well...

So inspiring to read. Robin's mom remind me of my mother. She is deceased now, my only regret is that she did not write a book. I look forward to reading her book. Love the three D's they lived by because that is what my mother taught us. Great article.

What inspirations (both Robin and her mother). And how ironic that I read this article just hours after Robin posted on GMA via Facebook that her mother has suffered a serious setback with her health. My thoughts and prayers are with Robin and her family.

A superb article about a wonderful woman. In my view (and I know from experience) there is no greater blessing in our earthly life than to have a wonderful mother.