Helen Thomas, the former White House journalist who reported on 10 presidents over her career and became an iconic member of the press, has died at age 92 on Saturday, according to a CNN report. She died at her apartment following a lengthy illness.
Thomas’ White House assignments during her lengthy career started in 1961 when she worked for United Press International covering President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. She remained as a White House reporter until 201- when she retired from her job with the media conglomerate Hearst after she was caught on video making controversial comments about Jewish people.
Though Thomas profusely apologized for her remarks and having written that her comments do not reflect her heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance – a day that she said may come soon – the story didn’t go away and she retired a week later.
Thomas, of Lebanese descent, was born on August 4, 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky as one of nine children in her family. From Kentucky, she was raised in Detroit Michigan where she was received a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in 1942. She married Douglas Cornell in 1971 – who died in 1982.
A trailblazer, Thomas was the first female member of – and eventually the president of – the White House Correspondents’ Association and also was a member of the Washington’s Gridiron Club.
During her career, she wrote three books which were “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times” which was published in 1999, “Thanks for the Memories Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House which was published in 2002, and “Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public” which was published in 2006.
Considered a fearless reporter, she described her work in reporting on presidents as having never covered a president in any way other than that he is ultimately responsible.
Becoming a columnist after decades of reporting, Thomas once said that she censored herself for 50 years when she was a reporter – but after having started writing opinion columns that didn’t require the strict censorship, she said she would wake up and ask herself “Who do I hate today?” She was an extremely harsh critic of President George W. Bush and even wrote that he was the worst president ever. Just prior to her retirement, she appeared to get along with President Barack Obama. The president even popped into the White House briefing room a couple of years ago to surprise Thomas with a birthday cupcake.