White House reporter Helen Thomas never failed to ask the questions that were important and candid. From John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, Thomas unswervingly tended her position on the White House Press Corps. It was impossible to miss her in the front row of the White House Press room—she was distinct, hard-pressing, and perfectly pointed.
Owen Ullman of USA Today noted, “We all knew Helen as the tough reporter who would hurl the hardball questions at powerful politicians, setting an example for timid colleagues who felt intimidated about grilling powerful politicians before the eyes of the world. For me, that was her invaluable contribution to Washington journalism.”
Others have a less sympathetic memory of her. The Associated Press noted, “Helen was unlike other reporters, who saw their jobs as gathering information. She saw that responsibility, but she couldn't resist using her bully front seat to press a viewpoint.”
In a statement from the White House, President Obama said, “Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Helen Thomas. 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. What made Helen the ‘Dean of the White House Press Corps’ was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account. Our thoughts are with Helen’s family, her friends, and the colleagues who respected her so deeply.”
Thomas graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1942, and the following year she went to work for United Press International (then called United Press). She worked for UPI until 2000; she wrote for the Hearst Corporation from 2000 to 2010.
This provocative American journalist is represented in the National Portrait Gallery study collection with the accompanying 1984 portrait by Michael Arthur Worden Evans (1944-2005).
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Helen A. Thomas, born 4 Aug 1920 / Michael Arthur Worden Evans / Gelatin silver print, c. 1984 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Portrait Project, Inc., © Michael Evans
"Helen Thomas: She Asked The Unasked Questions" by the Associated Press, via NPR
"First Take: Gutsy Helen Thomas set journalistic example" by USA Today