It's easy to understand why the 41-year-old newscaster would question her category. Just six months earlier, on Jan. 24, her husband, Jay Monahan, a legal analyst for MSNBC, died of colon cancer at 42. Although she has refused to discuss the details of his last days, Couric told Newsweek, "Every day my heart was breaking. He was everything I look for in another person." But while she made no secret of her grief, the widowed mother of two girls (Ellie, 7, and Carrie, almost 3) also made it clear that she must go on with life. "I've got two children and a demanding job," she told USA Today. "Putting my head under the covers isn't an option."
Only a month after Monahan's death, Couric returned to her seat in Today's windowed studios. "We were all nervous," admits Today's executive producer Jeff Zucker, who, ironically, has also battled colon cancer. Sometimes Couric's emotions bubbled close to the surface, as when coanchor Matt Lauer narrated a story about cancer. "I could sense her tightening up," he recalls, "and by the time I finished, she was in tears." But Couric quickly regained her composure. "She's an incredible professional," Zucker says. "I think she's worth every cent she gets."
Still, Couric refuses to act her tax bracket, coloring her own hair, buying clothes at the Gap and balking at paying first-class airfare. "She doesn't want to set herself apart," says older sister Clara Batchelor, 48, a landscape architect in Boston. Always a devoted mom, Couric now races home from the set to be with Ellie and Carrie. Says Lauer: "Her children are obviously her world right now." But if her daughters and her success bring a measure of light into her life, Couric still finds herself confronting a future darker than she ever imagined. Notes her sister: "Katie truly believed she and Jay would grow old together."