Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Memorial Service Celebrates Life and Achievements of Helen Thomas

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Memorial Service Celebrates Life and Achievements of Helen Thomas

Article excerpt

The family of trailblazing Arab-American journalist Helen Thomas held a standing-room-only memorial service attended by hundreds of friends and admirers in the ballroom of the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Oct. 5. Thomas' niece, former WOOD-TV anchor Suzanne Geha, shared stories about her unforgettable aunt, who died on July 20, 2013 (see September 2013 Washington Report, pp. 20-21).

One story no one had heard before, Geha noted, was that when Thomas worked for United Press, she went on a date with John F. Kennedy, then a young, single Democratic congressman. When her friends asked about the date, she told them, "He was too fresh." But she loved him as a president later.

Whenever Thomas returned to visit her family in Detroit, Geha said, she'd show a great interest in her nieces and nephews and ask them about their report cards, favorite subjects and friends. She had a strong sense of honesty, loved people and peace, was passionate and compassionate, and a loyal friend. She stood up for freedom of speech and press, Geha said. Thomas loved to sing and perform, especially her favorite song, "Bill," from the musical "Showboat," which her great-niece Christina Swanson sang at the memorial.

ABCnews anchor Sam Donaldson recalled his favorite four questions his friend asked presidents. "Helen Thomas is not really gone," Donaldson observed, as he headed offto fight a wildfire at his New Mexico ranch. She "will be a beacon for all of us...she'll shine forever."

PBS NewsHour co-host Judy Woodruffjoked that Saint Peter thinks he's asking the questions in heaven. She recalled confiding her insecurities to Thomas when she became chief White House correspondent for NBC News in 1977. Thomas advised her, "Don't be intimidated by the place, the people and certainly not by the president!...Thomas gave the rest of us courage." She was both "tough and incredibly warm," Woodruffsaid, and never let on the personal burden she was carrying as she cared for her husband, Douglas Cornell, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Thomas believed in the public's right to know, Woodruffadded, and that the powerful should be held accountable. "We all owe her," Woodruffconcluded.

The current "Dear Abby," Jeanne Phillips, who took on her mother's column, read aloud Thomas' favorite letter: "Acouple of women moved in across the hall from me. …

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