Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas will share some of her rich perspective on the American presidency when she delivers a free public lecture Wednesday evening, April 7, in Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel.
Thomas, a fixture in the front row at presidential news conferences for more than four decades, has covered every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy through Barack Obama. She will give Illinois College’s 2010 Phi Alpha Lecture and be inducted as an honorary member of Phi Alpha Literary Society. Her lecture will begin at 7 p.m.
The respected journalist served as a correspondent for United Press International for 57 years and later became the first female member of the National Press Club, the first female to join the Gridiron Club, and the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents Association. The latest of her five books, Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do, and co-authored with Craig Crawford, was released in 2009.
Her White House coverage began shortly after the election of JFK in 1960, and she continued with UPI until 2000. She joined the Hearst News Service later that year and continues as a writer and correspondent for Hearst. Thomas has traveled the world several times as part of the press teams for presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She was the only newspaperwoman to travel with President Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972.
Thomas is the only member of the White House press corps to have her own chair in the White House Press Room. All other chairs are assigned to media outlets. The legendary journalist holds honorary degrees from Brown University, St. Bonaventure University, Michigan State University and George Washington University, served as a frequent commencement speaker, and lectured extensively on the White House and the Presidency. Her numerous awards include selection by the World Almanac as one of the 25 most influential women in America.
The annual Phi Alpha Lecture Series began in 1997 with a presentation by the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon, and former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana) was the guest speaker in 2008. Oratory has been a large part of Phi Alpha Literary Society’s tradition since the group’s founding in 1845. Many noted speakers and public servants have spoken to the society, including Abraham Lincoln who traveled to Jacksonville in 1859 to give the address, “Inventions and Discoveries.”