Thomas was the first woman assigned to cover the White House full time by a news organization, when she began reporting on the Kennedy White House for U.P.I. in 1961. Among a pool of reporters known for their chumminess, Thomas was a blunt instigator who tried to get Presidents and their representatives to answer questions they would rather not. Thomas continued covering the White House well into her eighties, only retiring in 2010 after she made controversial comments about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Born to Lebanese immigrants in Winchester, Kentucky, Thomas came to Washington during World War II, looking for a job. After being fired from a waitress position for "not smiling enough," Thomas found a clerical position at the Washington Daily News and began working her way up all the way to the White House. She became the first woman to become president of the White House Correspondents Association, as well as the first woman elected to the Gridiron Club, which had long been a male-only clubhouse for journalists.
In her later years, she became a sharp critic of the Bush administration, often pressing administration flacks on the rationale behind the Iraq War. Asked by the New York Times what the difference is between a a probing question and a rude one, she replied, "I don’t think there are any rude questions.”
She will also be remembered for this amazing video:
Update 2:07 P.M.: President Obama released the following statement about Thomas's life:
Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Helen Thomas. Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes. What made Helen the “Dean of the White House Press Corps” was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account. Our thoughts are with Helen’s family, her friends, and the colleagues who respected her so deeply.