Referred to by the Washington Post as the “feisty scourge of presidents,” Journalist Helen Thomas is remembered by Hobart and William Smith Colleges as one of the most recognizable journalists in the White House Press Corps and a 2003 guest of the President’s Forum Speaker Series. Thomas died at her home on July 20.
Covering every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, Thomas had unprecedented access to some of the most powerful men in American history, as well as a ringside seat to decades of landmark events worldwide. She served for 57 years as a correspondent for United Press International as White House bureau chief.
At Hobart and William Smith, Thomas shared her unique perspective as a speaker in the President’s Forum Series on Feb. 13, 2003, addressing the theme of the semester’s series “International Relations and Global Service.”
Thomas was the only print journalist to travel with Richard Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972, and traveled extensively with the presidents she covered. She also covered every presidential economic summit.
Known for asking the first question at presidential press conferences and closing every one with “Thank you, Mr. President,” Thomas also was the author of two books, “Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President” and “Front Row at the White House.”
Thomas was born in Winchester, Ky. She was raised in Detroit, Mich., where she attended public schools and later graduated from Wayne State University. Upon leaving college, she began her career serving as a copy girl on the old, now defunct Washington Daily News. She became the first female officer of the National Press Club, as well as the first woman to be named White House bureau chief of a major wire service, the first woman to be admitted to the Gridiron Club, and the first woman to serve as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. She has received a number of lifetime achievement awards.
She left UPI in 2000 to become a columnist for the Hearst News Service, a job she retired from in 2010.
In an obituary in the Washington Post following her death, President Obama is quoted: “Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes.”
The full Washington Post article is online.