Sunday, July 21, 2013

Claiming Helen Thomas

President Obama and Helen Thomas shared a birthday,
August 4. He gave her cupcakes at one of them.
WikimediaCom, a public domain photo
One of my favorite journalists, Helen Thomas (1920-2013), who people loved to love or loved to hate, just died at age 92. Whether or not you liked her, you had to admire her guts, persistence, and fortitude. She covered 11 presidents, an often-fearsome fixture in the White House press corps for decades.  She was a pioneer woman journalist, in the tradition of Nellie Bly, who faked insanity to cover conditions in early 20th-century mental institutions, or Ida B. Wells, an African-American journalist who campaigned against lynching. 

I think Helen Thomas belongs to our area of NW Ohio/SE Michigan. She grew up in Detroit, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, graduated from Wayne State University, and will be buried in Detroit.    

I remember her from my days in Washington, DC.  I would see her eating, alone, in my favorite Lebanese Restaurant, in Woodley Park near the bridge with the large lions.  I think she lived nearby. One time I got up the courage to approach her.  She was amazingly friendly and open.   We didn't talk politics, but just living in Washington and good food.  She suggested something on the menu, which I got the next time I went there.  I saw her a few times thereafter, and we'd wave and say hi.  It was hard to believe this was the fearless journalist who scared presidents! 

One time I told her I had lived in Toledo before moving to DC, which she knew immediately.  She said something like "Holy, Toledo! I like that town. Art Tatum. Good jazz. Good restaurants."  I like to believe she had the Beirut in mind.

The Detroit-Toledo connection.  Another reason to claim Helen Thomas.  She was a tough woman, but she had a softer side.  Not many people saw that.  I'll always treasure it.  The next time I'm at the Beirut, I'll imagine her sitting at a nearby table, and we'll toast to good food and good times.  
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