Tributes have started rolling in for Helen Thomas, one of the first women to break into Washington's notoriously (to this day) male-dominated press corps. Her death was announced on Saturday by the Gridiron Club. Thomas was 92 years old.
The seasoned Washington reporter covered the White House for 49 years, spanning ten Presidents. Her first White House beat was covering the youthful idealism of the Kennedy presidency in 1960. Her career ended during a time of similar hope in the wake of the election of Barack Obama. Working for United Press International and Hearst Newspapers, she covered Nixon in China and the Reagan assassination attempt and, well, just about everything else that had to do with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and its occupants.
But Thomas's career came to an abrupt end in 2010 when she was videotaped making unflattering remarks about Israel at a White House party. "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she said on the tape, while speaking with a rabbi. "Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland." The famously opinionated reporter quit her job as a Hearst columnist shortly after the scandal.
But Thomas will be remembered for breaking barriers for women trying to report in Washington throughout her lengthy career. This is a small, incomplete list of pioneering positions and distinctions Thomas held during her illustrious tenure as a reporter. Nevertheless, they are testament to her manifold achievements:
- She was the first woman to be a White House bureau chief for a major wire service.
- She was the first woman officer for the White House Correspondents' Association.
- She was the first woman president of the White House Correspondents' Association.
- She was also the first woman to join The Gridiron Club, a who's-who fraternity of Washington power-playing journalists.
Journalist started sharing their best stories of the pugnacious Thomas as news of her passing spread on social media:
Opening of every White House news conf for years: "First question to Helen" RT @AP: Helen Thomas, pioneer for women in journalism, has died— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) July 20, 2013
Any woman who has had the privilege of sitting in the front row of the White House briefing room owes huge debt of gratitude to Helen Thomas— Julie Pace (@jpaceDC) July 20, 2013
For a time, Helen was the only reporter assigned a seat by name in the WH Briefing Room: front row center.— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 20, 2013
i'll choose to remember Obama giving Helen Thomas cupcakes on her birthday over the last controversial days http://t.co/pqR9ivEytB— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) July 20, 2013
Helen Thomas -- someone I can tell my daughters to look up to. RIP.— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) July 20, 2013
A pioneering life in American journalism has ended: veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas has died at age 92.— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 20, 2013
RIP Helen Thomas. She paved a path for many women jounalists who followed. She would have been 93 next month.— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) July 20, 2013
But perhaps the best anecdote passed along was the image of an aging Thomas showing she still had plenty of spirit left:
Enduring image of Helen Thomas: Literally kicking the door to the WH press office when the Clinton folks had yet to open it one morning.— Steve Holland (@steveholland1) July 20, 2013
That's Helen Thomas in a nutshell. She will be missed, both in the capital and throughout the nation.