One, if not the one, of the most recognizable and lauded White House correspondents, Helen Thomas' career has spanned nearly sixty years.
Born August 4, 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky, Ms. Thomas began her journalistic road to the White House as a World War II correspondent for United Press International. Often relegated to covering women's issues of the day, Thomas itched to prove her mettle covering real news issues, but had to wait for quite awhile for the right moment.
That moment arrived when John F. Kennedy was elected President, but before he had taken office. Thomas set up camp outside the Kennedy's tony Georgetown residence, and made detailed notes on which political and social lights were dropping by to visit the Kennedy family. The day of JFK's inauguration she simply planted herself in the White House press room, started asking questions, and didn't stop asking questions until nearly forty years later, always asking them on behalf of UPI. She always made sure to say, "Thank you, Mr. President" at the end of every Presidential press conference, and established a tradition whereby she was allowed to question the President first at every news conference held. She eventually became known as "Dean of the White House press corps", often mentoring more junior reporters ... as well as a few junior White House press secretaries.
Thomas not only made strides in the White House, she also helped female journalists make strides by being the first: first female officer of The National Press Club in 1971, first female White House bureau chief for a wire service in 1974, first female member and first female president of the Gridiron Club (one of the most exclusive press organizations) in 1975. She was also the only print journalist to accompany President Richard M. Nixon on his historic visit to China in 1972.
Thomas ended her career with UPI in May, 2000 after the wire service was purchased by News World Communications, which is held by Unification Church founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Well loved (and sometimes well feared) by both her fellow journalists and eight Presidential administrations, Thomas has won countless journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. Starting with JFK, and continuing on through the administration of Bill Clinton, she felt that "We in the press have a special role since there is no other institution in our society ... that can hold the President accountable. I do believe that our democracy can endure and prevail only if the American people are informed". (From Thomas' autobiography, "Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times").
After suffering through a long illness, Helen Thomas died on July 20, 2013, at her home in Washington, D.C. at the age of 92.