Tribune reporter: My encounters with Helen Thomas, and my regret
Washington• If only I'd brought her book.
I sat there thinking about that as I downed yogurt and berries at the National Press Club and occasionally glancing over at Helen Thomas eating breakfast a few feet away. It was 2005 and I had only been The Tribune's correspondent in Washington, D.C., for a few weeks.
It was the first time I'd meet her.
My one-time hero of journalism, who had broken up the boy's club mentality of Washington, often dropped by the Press Club to snatch the free, member-only breakfast before heading to her other home, the White House.
I had just finished Thomas' book, "Front Row at the White House," and regretted that it wasn't in my backpack at the time. I still said hi.
Thomas was nice, as always, asking where I was from and how great it was that regional reporters like myself existed in Washington. We were important, she said.
I'd see her frequently at the club's breakfast; she always ate alone, reading the papers and nicely greeting folks like me who interrupted her alone time.
"Women and men who've followed in the press corps all owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened," said White House Correspondents Association President Steven Thomma of McClatchy. "All of our journalism is the better for it."
I couldn't agree more.
Thomas had her moment of extemporaneous remarks about Israel that would come back to bite her. But I tend to think of her legacy over time. She was the first female member of the Gridiron Club and was part of the effort that finally forced the Press Club to include women members.
"While that happened way too late, I and others who followed her appreciate the determination she showed in knocking down the barrier that had kept women in the balcony at the Press Club," Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane said Saturday.
Thomas once held the position I hold now: chair of the Press Club's Board of Governors.
The last I saw Thomas she was in a wheelchair and frail but still smiling as she entered the Gridiron Club's big Spring dinner. She was the 315th member of the club and I, the 484th.
I still regret that I never asked her to sign my book.
Things to know about Helen Thomas
She spoke to Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City in 2006. Read the article from the Intermountain Catholic: http://tinyurl.com/lfst72a
A first lady once scooped Thomas on a story her engagement. Learn five facts about the trailblazing correspondent: http://ow.ly/n9F9U