Helen Thomas

Born in Kentucky to Lebanese immigrants, Helen Thomas was raised in Michigan during the depression and eventually graduated from Wayne State University. Ms. Thomas had always wanted to be a journalist and became one just one year out of college, joining UPI and covering federal agencies such as the FBI, DOJ, and HEW. While many women relinquished their jobs to returning WWII veterans, Helen Thomas followed her true north, and continued her journalism career.

Ms. Thomas has achieved many ‘firsts’ in her life including first female White House bureau chief of a wire service, first female member of The Gridiron Club, and first female officer of The National Press Corp. She managed to carve out an unusually successful career in a field where women were not welcome, and at a time when women were not welcome.

Early on, growing up as one of 9 children, Helen targeted journalism. Whenever she as asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her response was always the same. Once as a youngster, a visitor arrived and Helen peppered her with questions. Finally, the visitor exclaimed ‘Helen, why are you so inquisitive?’ Helen’s reaction was to ask her sisters what ‘inquisitive’ meant and then immediately returned to the questions.

Her father never learned how to read, but still had an avid interest in current events and world news. Each night after dinner, he would ask one of his children to read the paper to him. Helen not only enjoyed being the conduit, but developed a fondness for news that never diminished. During high school she joined the school newspaper staff and had found a role she never surrendered. In spite of her father’s inability to read, their household was full of books and her parents expected those books to be more than paperweights. All 9 children had a clear understanding that greatness was expected of all of them.

Helen Thomas has remained faithful to her roots as a cub reporter by forever championing the ‘people’s right to know’. She insists that she still gets a rush from seeking the whys and wherefores for daily events. In speaking engagements around the country, she exhorts journalism students to seek the truth and to report the facts. She insists that her training as a wire service reporter taught her to leave out all adverbs and adjectives, which would leave nothing but truth and facts! An insatiable desire to ‘be there’ when major events take place keeps her active in her field in spite of being many years past the age when most of us retire.

When asked who had the greatest influence on her life, Helen steadfastly insists it is her parents. She cites teachers throughout her life as being important, but her guiding lights were her parents. Her father, George, immigrated to the US at 17, in 1892 from Tripoli, Syria, which later became part of Lebanon. He returned to Syria in 1901 and married Mary. They had one child and returned to Kentucky to raise their family that continued to grow.

Helen graduated from college in 1942, with World War II in full throttle. She traveled to Washington, D.C. ostensibly to visit her cousin, but this was a one-way visit, as Helen never returned home. She began her journalism career covering police and fire reports, women’s events and issues, but was soon moved to cover hard news for the wire service. Helen freely admits that it is not her post as White House watchdog that is the most interesting part of her job. Rather, it is the observations performed and intimate knowledge gained of those in power that has made her job a privilege and a responsibility.

Helen’s constant, natural inquisitiveness has served her well as a reporter. She is one of the most respected Washington scribes to ever put pen to paper. Following her earliest instincts she prevailed in a career where nearly everything discouraged her. But her choices were home-grown and true. Her success and longevity are a strong testimonial to passionate leaders making organic choices.

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