July 22, 2013
Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas (Courtesy Helen Thomas)

Remembering Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent who was as much a Washington institution as the institution she covered since 1961, died July 20, 2013. She was 92.

During her long career, Thomas — called the "dean" of the White House press corps — amassed a number of firsts:

  • The first female officer of the National Press Club
  • The first female president of the White House Correspondents Association
  • The first female senior White House correspondent for United Press International
  • The first female White House bureau chief for a wire service

As the senior wire-service correspondent covering the White House, Thomas traditionally asked the president one of the first two questions and was the only one to close every presidential press conference.

"Thank you, Mr. President," was her closing line. The tradition ended in 2003.

Thomas was a frequent contributor to Newseum programs and events, most notably the annual dedication of the Journalists Memorial, where for many years she was the first of several journalists to read the names of the fallen.

Thomas covered the administrations of 10 presidents, beginning with John F. Kennedy. She left UPI in 2000 and became a syndicated columnist for Hearst Newspapers until she retired in 2010.

Throughout her career, Thomas was known for her pointed comments and questions.

To President Richard M. Nixon: "Mr. President, Mr. Haldeman, your former top aide in the White House, has been charged with perjury, because he testified you said it would be wrong to pay hush money to silence the Watergate defendants."

To President Bill Clinton: "Mr. President, despite the ongoing investigation, you’ve felt no constraint in saying what your relationship with Monica Lewinsky … was not. So it seems by logic that you ought to be able to say here and now, what was your relationship?"

In 2010, it was her own controversial and much criticized comments about Israel that forced her to abruptly retire after a career that spanned more than five decades.

Thomas began wearing her signature red clothing to press conferences during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Reagan mentioned that red was his wife Nancy’s favorite color. Reporters had a better chance of being called upon, he said, if they wore it.

In her 1999 autobiography Thomas said: "To this day, when I make a speaking appearance, someone will ask me, ‘Where is that red dress?’ "

One of her red dresses and the red turtleneck she wore to a presidential press conference in 2006 are on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

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