|Helen Thomas takes her front row seat in the James Brady White House Press Room|
During the Clinton Administration I experienced an opportunity that came as a complete surprise. Barbara Isaac a sister, entered my office to tell me she was transferring a call to me. My first thought, a disgruntled provider is calling due to a problem. When I balked at picking up my phone, Barbara whispered "It's Helen! She is calling from her desk in the White House Press area.
It was a privileged first for me and more was to come.
It was a late December weekend in the midst of a contentious Election 2000 when Barbara telephoned. She called to extend an invitation to join the Thomas Family for a Holiday meal. Helen was home in Detroit during a lull in the news. The entire nation held their breath as Florida election officials counted "hanging chads" and the State Supreme Court struggled with a historic ruling.
It took only seconds to accept the invitation. To this day so I am so happy I did.
I needed to make a decision. After all, this was Helen Thomas, the first female journalist privileged to work among the White House Press Corp beginning during the years of President John F. Kennedy. Helen was the first female journalist eventually known as "Dean of the White House Press Corp." Later she became one of the first females entering and later served as President of the "Gridiron Club."
The Thomas family with both haste and efficiency went about their assigned tasks. One niece graciously offered her home even though under extensive rehabilitation. The workman's clutter did not matter. This was just another wonderful feast the Thomas family always enjoyed. The clutter and chaos somehow disappeared into the background.
This was to be one of those rare occasions for the Thomas family. Helen always vigilant, reluctantly decided to abandon post even if was to take time for herself and her family. Helen recognized decades ago her calling as a journalist and a guardian of the Fourth Amendment. She viewed her tireless twenty-four seven efforts as a personal duty, always present to serve. Helen Thomas became the eyes, ears of the nation. More importantly, she was the voice of America. Helen was our advocate who was to probe the efficacy and transparency of the Presidency for forty years.
It was the energetic Barbara Isaac, who arranged my seat next to Helen at dinner. Barbara selflessly wished to share her sister even though the family rarely experienced the same privilege. Almost as on cue, I heard the unique and infectious laugh that I had already known Helen shared with Barbara!
Soon our informal introductions and greetings made a quick turn. I began to interview the incomparable political interviewer. I made inquiry one after another about her career within the walls of government. Of course I asked her who is your favorite President? I knew her answer before I finished the question. "President John F. Kennedy" she replied without a thought. Why? "It is the inspiration he brought to America, especially our youth." I enthusiastically informed her, I was one.
Our conversation, my interview continued almost uninterrupted throughout the evening. Our discussion went from those early years and time she spent with Jacqueline Kennedy and her children up to the current election debacle. She made known to me her opinion of the candidates and how the nation may be endangered if the results were overturned by the Supreme Court. She was prophetic. The horror of 9/11/2001 and nightmare of a needless incursion into Iraq was beyond our imagination.
Yet, Helen Thomas held doubt about our country's future hinged on the outcome. Over the ensuing years she was proved to be right. Helen was removed from her front row seat at White House briefings after her persistent questioning of a war when it became obvious the motive was suspect. The one-on-one discussion became the most educational and informative I experienced in my life!
|Glamour Prior to the National Press Corp Dinner|
About midnight the evening came too quickly to a close. I walked Helen to her car across icy sidewalks holding on for dear life that I did not slip and bring this most gracious lady down with me! We made it! I gave Helen a kiss, thanked her again. We waved goodnight as her car drove off, as a gentle snow fell blessing her and the night.
On behalf of myself and staff, our condolences to Barbara and her family upon the passing of their beloved Helen Thomas. GOD Bless all of You and the Freedoms of Speech and the Press.