She’s almost 90, so it isn’t surprising that Helen Thomas is retiring. That she is retiring because of her own words, does surprise me. The words were harsh and she should not have said them, of course. Helen Thomas is a woman who has spent a lifetime thinking, speaking and writing. My own experiences with Helen Thomas have been nothing short of delightful. When I wrote Seen and Heard: The Women of Television News, she was my first choice as a foreword writer. I found her phone number in the Washington, D.C. phone book and knew I found the right “Helen Thomas” when her unmistakable voice on her answering machine prompted me to leave a message. I left her my best “nice, favor-asking voice” message inquiring about whether or not she would write a foreword for my book about television newswomen. A month went by with no response, so I followed-up and got the same answering machine message. I left the same, nice favor-asking message as I did before. A week later she called to say she’d be interested in reading the manuscript and if she likes what she reads, she would write the foreword. So I shipped her the pages and a month later, in her own handwriting she faxed a five-page foreword for the book. I trimmed it a bit, but it was what I wanted: the perspective of a woman who had worked in the media for a long time. She wrote: “These women of television news toughed it out and fortunately were driven enough to insist on equity.”
A year later, when Penn State Lehigh Valley needed a commencement speaker, she sprang to my mind. Again, the phone call, and this time a written letter follow-up and she was all ours. Her speech was brief, but it was gracious and inspiring. Her interactions with students, faculty and staff were also warm and fun. She was terrific.
Helen Thomas is stepping down. By anyone’s standards she has had a long and good run. She said of the women profiled in my book: “They had to prove themselves over and over again in a tough, demanding and sometimes merciless profession.” She ought to know. I take my hat off to Helen Thomas.
Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley.