Helen Thomas

2 minute read
Robert Gibbs

I was the last White House press secretary Helen interrogated. But I certainly didn’t get it as tough as my predecessors did or any of the 10 Presidents she covered in a remarkable career that spanned seven decades. Helen was relentless in the pursuit of answers. Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, tells of a call from Helen asking him a question at 3 a.m. When Marlin asked why she had called him, Helen responded emphatically, “Because no one else will!”

She asked every question the only way she knew how–directly. I remember the first day I called on her. She was perched in the middle seat of the briefing room’s front row. In a room where every other seat was assigned to a media organization, her seat was assigned to her by name. It was at that moment that I knew I was really the White House press secretary. But Helen’s volleys left little time to bask in the glow.

Helen, who was 92 when she died on July 20, was a trailblazer because she simply found it contrary to the vision of this country that women weren’t covering the world’s most influential leader. Because of that passion, her life became a series of firsts. She was the first woman assigned to the White House to cover a President, the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

Reporters I talked to say her friends were like family to her, that she acted as both a mentor and a mother to others who covered the President. Throughout her pioneering career she never lost a sense of who she was, remaining the same humble, down-to-earth working reporter every day she went to the White House.

Gibbs was President Obama’s White House press secretary from January 2009 to February 2011

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