For years, Helen Thomas ended every presidential press conference by saying: “Thank you, Mr. President.” She shattered glass ceilings, was a trailblazer for women in journalism, and never took no for an answer, either from presidents or from stuffy organizations that denied membership to women reporters.
Ms. Thomas died last weekend in her Washington, D.C., home, two weeks before her 93rd birthday. She spent most of her life as the hard-working White House bureau chief for United Press International. After she left UPI in 2000, she launched a new career as a syndicated columnist.
Her career ended sadly in 2010, when Ms. Thomas, long a critic of Israeli policies, said that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Russia, Germany, and the United States. There was no excuse for those outrageous remarks; although she apologized, she was forced into retirement.
Yet that blemish should not overshadow her achievements. One of 10 daughters of a Lebanese immigrant who could not read, she grew up in working-class Detroit, put herself through what is now Wayne State University, and left for Washington in 1943.
She had her share of scoops, especially during the Watergate scandal. She summarized her working philosophy: “Democracy dies behind closed doors.”
Those words, and the trail she blazed for women journalists after her, are how she deserves to be remembered.