When Robin Roberts visits the Akron area this weekend, it will be a return to familiar territory and the start of a new adventure.
The new move for the Good Morning America co-anchor, who is expected in town today, will be riding in a Goodyear blimp. The familiar territory will be Akron itself, where Roberts has strong family ties.
The ride will come shortly after she christens the new Wingfoot One Saturday in front of an anticipated 2,200 guests at a sold-out ceremony at the Suffield Township blimp facility.
A former sports reporter who still ventures occasionally into that field, she nonetheless said in a recent telephone interview that however many times she saw a blimp at games, she did not recall riding in one of the airships before. The closest she has gotten has been in hot-air balloons.
“I just can’t wait to take that bottle of champagne and crack it” on Wingfoot One, she said. “It’s like, check on the list. ‘What did you do last weekend?’ ‘Christen the Goodyear blimp.’ ”
At the same time, there is flight in her blood. Her father, Lawrence Roberts, was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and Robin said she might have become a pilot if broadcasting had not worked out.
The family ties here go back generations. According to Roberts, her great-grandfather, George Suddeth, and her grandfather, William Tolliver, worked for Goodyear. Her mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts, was born in Akron and a graduate of East High School. After she married Lawrence, Lucimarian began the wandering life of a military wife and mother before settling in Mississippi, where Robin was born and in 2012 her mother passed away. (Robin’s father died in 2004.)
Lucimarian’s sister, Depholia Sims Butler, remained in Akron, and Robin has stayed in touch. Her aunt sometimes sends her clips from the Beacon Journal and offers a regular reminder not only of Robin’s mother but of what Akron life is like.
In fact, Roberts brought up her blimp adventure to her aunt, expecting her to share Roberts’ excitement. “She’s like, ‘Honey, we are so been there, done that.’ ”
That comment and our conversation generally were often punctuated by Robin’s laughter, whether the topic was old connections or new co-stars like football-player-turned-TV-star Michael Strahan, recently added to the GMA team. (“We’ve got a real hall of famer,” she said of Strahan, inducted in Canton earlier this month.)
“It’s great to be talking about things other than my health,” said Roberts. To be sure, she has actively pursued many news stories, among them the way Hurricane Katrina affected her home turf in Mississippi, as well as participating in political coverage and glossy events like the Oscars’ red-carpet arrivals.
Still, for years, medical matters were also part of her story. A battle with breast cancer began in 2007. Then in 2012 came a bone-marrow transplant to treat a blood disorder; that kept her off the air for five months. And the transplant was set just as the news came that her mother was dying.
Her handling of these trials was well noted, and included the ESPYs’ Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2013 — handed to her by LeBron James. But there was also a part of her that just wanted to get back to work, to the news and humor that had made GMA a success.
She was enormously grateful for the outpouring of support during her treatment — including from folks in the Akron area. But Roberts, who repeatedly sees reasons for humility in her life, has also wanted to keep her struggles in the context of what other people go through.
There’s a reason she called her most recent book Everybody’s Got Something.
And there’s another connection between Roberts and Akron: In 2013 she came to town for a two-part GMA interview with James. So what, then, did she think of his homecoming?
“Ohhh, I am so happy,” she said. She saw a story of forgiveness, not only in local fans forgiving James but in James forgiving Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. She compared James’ Miami period to a college education, with James coming home “a better player and a better person because of that experience. …
“I know he’s very grateful for the championships he won in Miami. If he brings one to Cleveland, to Akron, to Ohio, to his home — wow. That’s going to be a moment for a lot of people.”
By Rich Heldenfels - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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