Thursday, July 25, 2013

She Was Just Like Us, Only Incredible

Boy#1 and Helen Thomas. He's on the right.
I believe I've mentioned that I have the best job in the world, and 90 percent of the time I would do it for far less money. Fortunately, the remaining 10 percent of my job is taxing enough that on average, I'm paid decently. (Have you ever had to notify a newspaper after the death of a student? Then you know what I'm talking about.) Today I'm going to talk about the 90 percent. 

I had been working here for three years in 1999 when Helen Thomas gave the Commencement address at Small College. I was the director of public relations at the time, and was assigned to make sure Ms. Thomas was where she should be when she should be, and that the president didn't have to worry about this famous visitor.


Helen Thomas had been my idol since I had been old enough to realize that a WOMAN was sitting in the front row of each and every White House press conference I watched. She repeatedly went  head-to-head with the president of the United States, and the man in the office always answered her with respect.

Teenage and even slightly older than teenage women today have no idea how powerful this image was when I was that age. We were still of an age where it was daring to think girls could be doctors as well as nurses, principals as well as teachers. And there was Helen Thomas, asking hard questions on behalf of the entire world. She was the opposite of the one-named rock stars whose fame abbreviated their names--Elvis, and Cher, and Bing. Her body of work had made it impossible for me to think of her in anything less formal than her full name--she was always Helen Thomas in my mind.

Helen Thomas turned out to be delightful. She was tiny, not even as tall as my shoulder, wearing a red jeweled pin in her hair, and genuinely interested the college and (flatteringly) in me. She called me her den mother, and when it was time for her to board her plane back to Washington she wrote her home phone number and address on a piece of paper and told me to be sure to call her if I was ever in the city. "Promise you'll call me and we'll see the sights together," she told me.

In the article I wrote for the alumni magazine I described the experience as "like spending the day with your very intelligent, very energetic, very lovable grandmother."

She had been my professional idol for a couple of decades, but the best part wasn't that I got to talk to Helen Thomas and pick her brain about presidents, it was that Boy#1 also had the chance to meet her. To say he was an avid fan of the political process would be gross understatement. He lived and breathed politics, to the point that we had to put a ban on dinner table discussions of favorite presidents. And here he was, getting to meet the woman whose "Thank you, Mr. President" had closed White House press conferences through several administrations.

I still look back on the day I spent with Helen Thomas with wonder. I met my professional idol, shared the experience with my husband and with Boy#1, then wrote about it. I regret that we didn't call her when we were in Washington a decade later, because I bet she would have remembered her trip to Kansas and her den mother.

And when I heard of Helen Thomas's death this week, I thought about that day. It was the first time that I realized I might have the best job in the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment