Brainy, beautiful and well-traveled, Norah O’Donnell might engender fierce envy if she wasn’t so likeable. These traits are on display daily, as millions of people across the country wake up and tune in to “CBS This Morning.” With her co-anchors Charlie Rose and Gayle King, the Emmy Award-winning O’Donnell keeps viewers in the know through in-depth reporting and interviews with the top news makers.
O’Donnell now lives part-time in New York, but the former Washington-based correspondent for CBS and NBC remains a fixture of the capital scene and can often be found running on the trails or dining at one of husband Geoff Tracy’s restaurants, kids in tow. Here she chats with Where about her upbringing, D.C. faves and surprising travel wish list.
You grew up in a military family. How did that influence your outlook?
It really shaped who I am today. My father served in the U.S. Army for 30 years. He was a doctor who was drafted during the Vietnam War. While we lived for the most part in San Antonio, Texas, we did tours in Germany and South Korea. The news was always important in my family, because it directly affected where my father was going to be.
My parents read the newspaper every day, and in fact my mother wouldn’t throw it away until she’d read the whole thing cover to cover. That meant there was a stack of papers on the dining room table, which embarrassed me as a kid. In hindsight, I think my mother’s deep appreciation for the news really shaped my love of it. As soon as I walk in the door here at “CBS This Morning” and they start my hair and makeup, I’m reading the paper and highlighting it and enjoying it.
When you attended D.C.’s Georgetown University, what were your neighborhood haunts?
I had gone to a big public high school in San Antonio, so Georgetown was a bit of a culture shock for me. But I absolutely loved it. I met my husband my freshman year, and we spent a lot of time at [restaurant-pub] The Tombs. That’s still there. I also spent a lot of time at the Georgetown library, and I still go to the neighborhood. It hasn’t changed that much.
Who’s been your favorite person to interview?
Malala Yousafzai was the most interesting. She’s the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban at age 16. I’ve never met someone with so much presence and confidence. I asked her, “Aren’t you afraid?” There were continuing threats on her life. She said, “I may be afraid of ghosts and dragons, but I am not afraid of the Taliban.”
She’s now living in England, but she wants to go back to Pakistan and become the next Benazir Bhutto, the next prime minister of Pakistan. I think she encapsulates what’s going to be the story of the 21st century, which is the empowerment of women and girls all around the world.
What are some of your top things to do in D.C.?
One is the Capital Crescent Trail. It runs all the way from Georgetown into Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s 11 miles long, and I think it’s actually the busiest trail in the country. A couple years ago, my sister and I were training for a half-marathon, so we would run the trail. It’s beautiful. I try to put it on my things to do every weekend, but sometimes I just go get my nails done.
And I have to plug [my husband’s restaurant] Chef Geoff’s. It’s still going strong after 16 years, and it has one of the best outdoor patios in northwest Washington, so we’re frequently there.
When you’re roaming the globe on assignment, what are some of your must-pack items?
Number one is work-out clothes. I always make room for the tennis shoes. And I try to always carry on. Even after 9/11 when I traveled with [Secretary of Defense] Rumsfeld all over the world, I would make everything fit in my carry-on.
I always bring my own hair dryer and roll brush, because I actually have really kinky, curly hair. I would also say Shiseido face cream, and then books, actual books. I like carrying the paperbacks.
Which destinations are on your travel bucket list?
Space. At “CBS This Morning,” we say the news is back on the morning. And I would say without hesitation that we do more stories about space exploration than any other morning show.
I would love to go to North Korea. I’ve never done a safari in Africa, but we’ll wait until our kids are old enough to do it. Also Saudi Arabia, because it has great influence in the Middle East, and it can be transformative in terms of stability in the region. It’s one of the most fascinating stories of the future.