Former White House Correspondent Helen Thomas, whose career dated back to the Kennedy administration has died at the age of 92. The Gridiron Club announced her death in an email to members. For members of the media, especially women Thomas will be remembered as a journalistic pioneer who became the constant feature in the White House briefing room. Presidents would come and go but Helen was always there. Thomas was indeed a woman of firsts.
Thomas was the first woman to join the White House Correspondents’ Association, and the first woman to serve as its president. She was also the first female member of the Gridiron Club, Washington’s historic press group. Thomas served for 57 years at United Press International, first as a correspondent then as a White House bureau chief, before becoming a columnist for Hearst Papers.
“Former Gridiron Club president Helen Thomas, our first female member, died Saturday morning at her Washington apartment after a long illness,” Gridiron’s Carl P. Leubsdorf wrote in an email to members. “She would have been 93 next month.”
Present at the press briefings of ten consecutive presidential administrations, Thomas earned a front-row seat at White House press briefings. Beyond Washington, her status as a trailblazing female reporter made her name a cultural reference point, even invoked in an episode of “the Simpsons.”
Sadly, Thomas’s impressive career in journalism ended abruptly in 2010 when controversial remarks she made about Israeli Jews to a Rabbi were caught on camera. Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, told the Rabbi that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and that the Jewish people should go home to “Poland, Germany … and America and everywhere else.”
On Saturday, Thomas’s colleagues expressed sadness and shared memories of the veteran reporter on Twitter.
“Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed: woman pioneer journalist broke barriers died today wld have been 93 nxt month RIP,” Andrea Mitchell, the NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent wrote.
Born in Winchester, Kentucky in 1920, Thomas was one of nine children, and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She wrote three books over the course of her career: “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times” (1999); “Thanks for the Memories Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House” (2002); and “Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How it Has Failed the Public” (2006).
Let us remember Helen Thomas for all she did throughout her career and the difference she made for women in the news business.
RIP HELEN THOMAS!