Robin Roberts Turns a 'Mess Into a Message'

Robin Roberts (Heidi Gutman/Getty Images Entertainment)
Robin Roberts (Heidi Gutman/Getty Images Entertainment)

(The Root) — I cannot get enough of Robin Roberts. She's the type of woman whose smile isn't just infectious — it's irresistible, overpowering. When she smiles, you have absolutely no choice but to join in and do the same. It's practically cultlike, my Robin Roberts worship, and it appears as if the rest of you are believers, too.


Returning to her post as co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America after six months of medical leave, Roberts, 52, told her legion of fans yesterday: "Faith, family and friends have brought me to this moment. As my mother said, we all have something, and everyone's story has purpose and meaning and value. And I share this morning, this day of celebration, with everyone."

Last year Roberts was diagnosed with a type of MDS, or myelodyplastic syndromes, a rare form of blood cancer, after beating breast cancer in 2005. One day before she was to leave GMA to undergo intense chemotherapy and a lifesaving bone marrow transplant from her older sister, Robert's mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts, died at 88 years old.  


Robert's mother, who co-authored a book with her former basketball-star daughter in 2012 titled My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith, indeed said, "Everyone has something." For Roberts it's almost intangible. What is her "something"?

In a broadcast career that has spanned more than three decades, Roberts is smart without ever being snobbish, snide or snarky. Roberts is the consummate professional while still managing to be attainable, every day. She is beyond likable; she's huggable. Her beauty isn't debatable. It is simple fact. A recent article in the New York Times stated that Roberts "is, according to industry research, the most-liked host on any American morning news program by a wide margin."

Also according to the Times, after Ann Curry left NBC's formerly No. 1-rated Today show, which GMA ousted from the top spot last year, Today executive producer Jim Bell told senior producers that ABC was "using Robin's illness and the accompanying public interest in her health as a new weapon in its arsenal."

But perhaps the story of a much loved woman beating the odds again and again isn't what the network revels in exploiting, but what viewers actually enjoy taking part in. Recently The View's Whoopi Goldberg called the many ABC appearances that Roberts will make this week, including a special documentary on 20/20 airing Friday at 10 p.m., her "victory lap." It is. And who wouldn't want to be on the sidelines cheering for triumph for a change?


In lieu of hugs and handshakes on Thursday, Roberts gave each of the hosts of The View an "elbow bump" because MDS weakens the immune system. But other than that visible precaution and her new chemo-induced hairstyle, Roberts was especially radiant and all smiles as usual, turning her "mess into a message" as her late mother taught her. Still, there was one moment during Roberts' two-segment interview on the couch that brought a lump to everyone's throat.

Goldberg asked, "Did it ever occur to you not to come back?" And the woman who seemed invincible even as she shared her most trying moments with the entire world finally teared up.


"I didn't know if I could come back," explained Roberts. "It's not that I didn't want to. But I didn't know if I could. But I have to tell you, God is good all the time; all the time God is good."

It's that unwavering optimism that makes Roberts so undeniably American and therefore unanimously popular. Like that song says, she is titanium, as strong as steel but so much lighter. She is the kind of person whose very existence strangers take pride in.


And even still, with all the outpouring of support, Roberts confessed to initially feeling a bit skittish about the whole celebration on GMA, which included congratulations from the Obamas, Mary J. Blige, Hillary Clinton and Denzel Washington, along with a 125-pound red velvet cake. She also joked on The View that the network even considered a ticker tape parade.

"When you strut, you stumble," she said, quoting her late mother. But in the end, an admittedly very grateful Roberts took her sister Sally-Ann's advice: "Just let 'em love you."


Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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