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Dinner with Helen Thomas: A Reminiscence

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/25771400@N06/9325509175/: Helen Thomas
Helen Thomas by LCBGlenn
 

It must have been two years ago that I had the privilege of dining with Helen Thomas, courtesy of a mutual friend who came along with us and talked nonstop the entire time, worried that I might broach the subject of the Middle East crisis. 

     If I had, I would have let her know that when people ask me which side I favor, I always answer "peace."

     But again, maybe if I were as close a friend to her as was my friend, I would have spoken nonstop also. There is so much to say. We both listened, entranced. I might have wanted to hear more from her, but my friend's conversation was, as always, riveting--what I can relate to, anyway; this friend's knowledge and insightfulness know no bounds.

     We did clear the air first, after I had found a parking place in the crowded neighborhood of Adams Morgan on a Friday night--that horrendous senior moment that forced her to resign from journalism. She claimed her right to free speech. Are journalists supposed to be objective? Is there such a thing as pure objectivity?

     Her apology had been most eloquent, a wish for peace in the Middle East acceptable to and accommodating of both sides. I never knew that she had Syrian (Lebanese these days) roots, until my friend told me. Funny, she didn't look Syrian, I thought, but when I looked at her closely, I did see Middle Eastern features. Any relation to the Lebanese Danny Thomas? I didn't ask her.

     She had been attended by a health care professional while we sat and chatted in the lobby of her building. She seemed relieved when I stood up from my seat that was hidden from her line of vision and sat down next to my friend. I felt so insignificant.

     But when her driver took us to her favorite restaurant, the lady with the stethoscope retired to Helen's condo. The cuisine was Palestinian. Everyone in the restaurant knew her and exuded esteem and affection. On our brief trip from the condo to her car, people greeted her with deep respect.

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     I asked her to recommend an entree and she directed me toward the boned chicken. It was delicious. I did tell her that but I don't remember saying much else.

     My friend's subject matter skirted the Middle East, as I recall. There was such rapport between them. She listened with such esteem.

     I am so grateful for this encounter. She knew I was a local and had this to say when we parted: "Let me know if there's any fun around, Marta." I should have asked her what she meant. She was already so disabled that I couldn't picture her at the rallies I attended. I considered her before going to them as well as the panel discussions at the Center for American Progress that I attend from time to time. She might have transformed such a stimulating event into a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.

     And so I never contacted her, beyond emailing her to thank her for such a wonderful encounter and delicious meal.

     I forgot to remind her, and she wouldn't have remembered anyway, that years ago I had somehow come upon her email address and contacted her to ask what she thought would be the outcome of some Rove-related scandal--I forget which one.

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     She responded! "Wait and see," was her patient and indulgent message back. I treasured it. Little did I know that one day I'd be dining with her.

     This pioneering, gutsy, front-role journalist persisted at work into her eighties, with her incisive questions so cherished and at the same time so dreaded by the president or his press secretary. She paved so many ways for women journalists to follow.

     I am deeply grateful for the encounter and mourn her passing, at the same time marveling that she survived as long as she did, given her tenuous condition that evening when we met.

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A jack of some trades, writing and editing among them, Marta Steele, an admitted and proud holdover from the late sixties, returned to activism ten years ago after first establishing her skills as a college [mostly adjunct] professor in three (more...)
 

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