White House 'Dean' of press corps Helen Thomas
coming to UW-Eau Claire as Devroy speaker
By Dr. Mike Dorsher
Helen Thomas, the longtime “dean” of White House reporters who has tenaciously covered every president from Kennedy to Obama and is the author of six books, will be the featured speaker April 29 for this year’s Ann Devroy Memorial Forum at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Thomas, who was a White House reporter for United Press International from 1961 to 2000 and has been a columnist for the Hearst News Service the past 10 years, will share her insights about national and international affairs at the Devroy Forum.
Thomas was the first woman to be elected an officer of the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents Association and the Gridiron Club. She was the only female reporter to accompany President Nixon on his 1972 breakthrough diplomatic mission to China, and for nearly 40 years, her seniority allowed her to open every presidential press conference with the first question and close it with, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
No one will need a reservation or ticket to enter the event at Zorn Arena, which will start at 7 p.m. April 29. Those who previously printed out an online RSVP for the Devroy Forum can bring it to Zorn Arena on April 29 as a guarantee for a cushioned chair on the arena's floor. Additional seating will be available in the arena's first level of bleachers. Everyone will be able to see and hear the speakers well, because live video of their faces will be projected on large screens above them.
Interviewing Thomas on stage will be Mark Matthews, a former Baltimore Sun foreign correspondent, the author of a recent book on the Middle East and the widower of Ann Devroy. A former Spectator student newspaper staffer and 1970 graduate of UW-Eau Claire, Devroy went on to work alongside Helen Thomas as a White House reporter for Gannett News Service and, later, The Washington Post. After Devroy died of cancer in 1997 at age 49, The Post established the annual journalism forum in her name, at her alma mater.
“Helen Thomas eagerly agreed to come to UW-Eau Claire as soon as I told her the forum was in honor of her colleague Ann Devroy,” said Mike Dorsher, an associate professor of journalism who worked briefly with Thomas at UPI in the 1980s and with Devroy at washingtonpost.com in the 1990s. “I agree with those who say Ann Devroy was the best White House reporter of her time – and Helen Thomas is the best of all time. Neither of them ever let a president dodge their tough questions, whether he was a Democrat or a Republican.”
Thomas has agreed to meet with journalism students when she arrives on campus the afternoon of April 29. Then she will have a short question-and-answer session with invited students, faculty and local journalists. After her on-stage interview with Matthews, she will also take questions from the public and then autograph copies of her books, which will be there for sale.
One change to the Devroy fellowship this year is the change of requirements for fellowship applicants.
Dorsher, the chair of the Devroy committee, said in the past the scholarship was only available to print journalism majors who worked for The Spectator. However, the competition is now open to all UW-Eau Claire journalists.
"As digital media and our journalism curriculum continue to converge, we want the Devroy to remain the most prestigious scholarship in the Department of Communication and Journalism, making sure that it goes to the top journalism student on campus, regardless of which media she or he excels in," he said.
More information is available about Thomas, her extraordinary career and all of her books at her website. Also, a complete history of the Ann Devroy Memorial Forum is available at the department’s website.
This year’s annual Devroy Forum will be the 13th, and Thomas joins a line of distinguished Devroy speakers that includes Bob Woodward and David Broder of The Washington Post and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. In another highlight of each year’s forum, a top journalism student is awarded the Devroy Scholarship, which includes a January residency in Washington at The Post and a paid summer internship at one of Wisconsin’s three largest newspapers.
“At a time when much of the news industry is reeling, the Devroy Forum celebrates the best of journalism’s past and the promise of its future,” said Mary Hoffman, the chair of UWEC’s Department of Communication and Journalism. “Who better to recall and carry Ann Devroy’s legacy to our students today than Helen Thomas?”
Dorsher is an associate professor in the Communication and Journalism and chair of the Devroy Committee