(2 of 4)
COOPER: I would say Oseola McCarty [the Mississippi laundress who donated a $150,000 scholarship to the University of Southern Mississippi in 1995], Oprah Winfrey, my mother. And Barbara Bush--she's very comfortable with who she is.
WATKINS: Certainly my mother is still setting the example for me to follow. My parents divorced when I was 14. Divorce wasn't that common back then, especially in the Lutheran Church. [My mother] said, "I am going up there and kneeling, and I dare them not to give me Communion."
TIME: And did they?
WATKINS: Yes, they did.
ROWLEY: Right now, I would say that Iranian professor [Hashem Aghajari] who has been sentenced to death [on charges of blasphemy after he gave a speech calling on people not to follow religious leaders blindly]. [But in the past, it was my maternal] grandparents. They didn't have running water, a bathroom or indoor plumbing until my grandfather was 93. My grandma was orphaned at 11 and went to work to support her brothers and sisters. And my father was orphaned at age 2. He became the town's postman and walked 14 miles a day delivering the mail. You see somebody who didn't have opportunities--and I agree that being disadvantaged is very difficult--but what do you do about it? You have to try hard. Even if you can't win, try hard.
TIME: You are role models to some people. [All of them shake their heads. Rowley crosses her arms; Cooper screws up her face.] Why are you all so uncomfortable with this?
COOPER: We don't feel like we are heroes. I feel like I did my job.
ROWLEY: One of these days, maybe I will do something to deserve awards, and I have got 40 years to try ... The May 21 letter from me? I am repulsed by the idea of thinking that makes me a hero or anything like that...If I jump into an icy river and save a child, and I am lucky enough to get out, then fine. I would hope that I would do that, but maybe not. Maybe I would be a chicken.
TIME: Would any of you go back and change anything you did?
WATKINS: I wouldn't not do it. [But] what I really failed to grasp was the seriousness of the emperor-has-no-clothes phenomenon. I thought leaders were made in moments of crisis, and I naively thought that I would be handing [Enron chairman] Ken Lay his leadership moment. I honestly thought people would step up. But I said he was naked, and when he turned to the ministers around him, they said they were sure he was clothed.
TIME: What would you have done if you had known?
WATKINS: I would have gone to the board.
TIME: Would it have made a difference?
WATKINS: There's a slim chance Enron might not have imploded. It's hard to say. People are much more forgiving than we think. The scary thing is the amount of resistance we met. People I thought were my friends and I thought would support me backed away. They said, "Sherron, you're on your own on this."
COOPER: [Nods in agreement] It's a lonely road.
ROWLEY: I am not a good speaker. If you look at the Senate testimony, I think I set a record for uhs. Sometimes I couldn't even work out what I was trying to say. But I have no regrets on taking action.
WATKINS: [Addressing Rowley] This is the safety of the nation. It needed to be out.