Helen Thomas is 85 today. It was in August 32 years ago when she changed my life.
I was a very young newspaper reporter in a small town in central South Carolina. In those days - pre Woodward and Bernstein - a print journalist 'created' a career by moving from paper to paper and gathering experience and clips. I had started out in Wheeling, WVa. I got my big break when I was hired by the Pittsburgh Press. I started on Monday and they went on strike on Tuesday - for 3 years. But I didn't stick around even for three weeks.
My parents were living in Aiken, South Carolina. Actually, they were just getting ready to move to North Carolina. I went to visit and stopped in at the newspaper there and got hired. It was actually a good gig as newspapers go. I got to do a bit of everything. I was even the sports editor for a few months. I was on track and making tracks. Until Helen Thomas stopped me in my tracks.
It was a Sunday morning in August and I was reading the Sunday paper and drinking my coffee. I got to Parade and opened up the Q&A section in the front cover.
Q: "Is Helen Thomas the only female reporter in the White House? How much does she make?"
A: "Helen Thomas is the only White House print reporter (and the first) and makes $29,000 a year."
WTF??!!!!!! Even in the early 70's and even as a person of the lower class (female), I had hoped after basciallion years (which is what I figured Helen Thomas had logged in) of reporting I would be making more than $29,000 a year!
That was it. I was done. Being a newspaper reporter in those days was no glamor job. I remember my father kept asking me when I was going to get a job he could tell his friends about - having a daughter who was a reporter was embarrassing. Lois Lane and Helen Thomas - that was it as far as the public knew - for female reporters. But, I liked the investigative bits. I loved being in the know and having a license to be nosey. However, honestly, I wasn't that good. And $29,000??!! NFW.
Three months later, I was selling office equipment for IBM. My starting salary, before commissions was $18,000. My first year, I made $30,000.
So, thanks, Helen... Happy birthday. I hope you got a raise.