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Helen Thomas

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Categories: Media, Writers/Editors

Helen Thomas Helen Amelia Thomas was born with an inquisitive nature. Even as a child, she was fascinated with the world around her. And it was this insatiable curiosity about life that took her all the way to the White House.

Born in Winchester, Ky., and raised in Detroit, Thomas was the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Her father George came to the U.S. in 1892 from Syria; at Ellis Island the immigration officer Anglicized his surname Antonious to Thomas. Although he couldn’t read or write and was blind in one eye, he married her mother Mary, fathered nine children (Helen was the seventh) and operated a small grocery store. In the midst of such a large family, the short-statured and painfully shy Helen developed a loud voice and a quick wit that would help her later in life.

Thomas was 12 years old when she decided to become a newspaper reporter, and her fate was sealed in the 10th grade after she saw her first byline in the school paper. At Wayne University (now Wayne State University), she majored in English because the college didn’t offer journalism courses, and worked on the college newspaper. With the firm belief that she had “printer’s ink” in her veins, Thomas moved to Washington D.C. after graduating in 1942.

The country was at war in Europe and the Pacific, and many industries that were dominated by men began opening their doors to female applicants. Yet it still took Thomas a full year of knocking on doors at the city’s four newspapers to land a job as a “copyboy” on the now-defunct Washington Daily News. There she ran errands, fetched wire stories and made coffee — all for $17.50/week. But Thomas didn’t care. “I guess I would have swept the floors if they told me to. As far as I was concerned, I was working in journalism,” she wrote in her book, “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times.”

After a few months, Thomas was promoted to cub reporter and assigned to cover local news. One of her duties involved writing obituaries, which required her to call up the families of soldiers who appeared on the casualty rolls. “The horror of it all was that sometimes we called the families before the War Department (there was no Pentagon then) had even notified them. We’d hear the screams over the phone. This was a very sobering thing,” she wrote.

Within a year, the young and energetic reporter went to work for United Press (later United Press International), where she remained for nearly 60 years. Thomas covered the Justice Department, the Supreme Court, the Post Office, the Federal Communications Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. For years she toiled, writing hundreds of stories, and it was her hard-driving, competitive nature and utter devotion to the job that brought her to the White House press room.

In 1960, United Press already had two reporters covering the president of the United States: Merriman “Smitty” Smith and Al Spivak. But after Thomas began showing up to help out with various stories — and to cover First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy — they generously allowed her to join their previously all-male ranks.

Thomas believed that the White House belonged to the American people and she felt that in many ways it was hallowed ground. So she always counted herself “immensely privileged, even lucky” to go there every day and keep a watchful eye on the country’s leaders. “People hunger for information,” she wrote. “One of the great things about being in journalism is that you’re helping to educate people, that you are really giving them information that they need to preserve a democracy.”

Over the course of covering 10 administrations — from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama — Thomas took it upon herself to ask the hard questions. She soon became known as the White House watchdog, or as The New York Times described her, an equal-opportunity pit bull, one who refused to allow the people in power to work unchecked. In this way, Thomas was the epitome of everything the fourth estate stood for: to act as the people’s voice and to make sure those in power wielded it responsibly. “It’s been said that the questions I ask of presidents are the kind that are on the mind of a ‘housewife from Des Moines,’ and I hope that is true,” Thomas wrote. “To me, she personifies what the nation wants to know, and too many times these presidents have forgotten they are responsible and accountable to her and the country.”

The tradition of giving the wire services the first question and a front row seat in the press room provided Thomas with the opportunity to set the tone for presidential briefings, and made her the bane of both presidents and press secretaries alike. Her dogged pursuit of the truth was viewed by some to be overly combative, but others appreciated her penchant for asking hard-hitting questions.

Thomas’ reporting prowess lead to a promotion in 1974 to White House bureau chief, and once the briefings were televised, the public began to recognize her as the feisty woman up front who would demand the truth and end press briefings with the polite phrase “Thank you, Mr. President.” On a cab ride in 1988, the driver turned around and asked her, “Aren’t you the woman the presidents love to hate?”

Thomas was at the hospital when John F. Kennedy Jr. was born. She danced with Lyndon B. Johnson at an inauguration party, but later earned his ire when he found out that his daughter Luci was getting engaged from one of her stories. She was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon to China during his historic trip in 1972, and was the only reporter to land an exclusive interview with Martha Mitchell (the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell), which helped expose some aspects of the Watergate scandal. Thomas described Gerald Ford as friendly and down-to-earth and found Jimmy Carter to be very religious and amiable. Although she thought Ronald Reagan lacked credibility, she listened to him describe the terrible pain he felt after being shot and accompanied him to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

While she described President George H.W. Bush as personable, Thomas viewed his son, George W. Bush, as the “worst president in American history.” When those comments were published in a California newspaper, the second Bush White House retaliated by not calling on her during a press conference (it was the first time in four decades that she was not granted the first question). Thomas later apologized to the president, and Bush accepted it, but her view of his decisions did not change. In her book, “Watchdogs of Democracy: The Waning Washington Press Corps And How It Failed The Public,” Thomas also took the White House and Pentagon reporters to task for blithely accepting the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war: “I honestly believe that if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush administration’s war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.”

The feisty journalist described Bill Clinton as brilliant, secretive and quick to anger, but noted that he took the time to attend a surprise party for her birthday and even tried to interview her. As for Obama, she liked him well enough; however, she strongly disapproved of the way his administration tried to control the press.

When Thomas wasn’t reporting the news, she penned “Backstairs at the White House,” a popular syndicated column that offered an insider’s view of each administration. “I can say that after all these years of president-watching, I’m still in awe of the presidency and what it means to Americans, but not necessarily in awe of the man who was sitting there at any given time,” she wrote.

As the longest-serving White House journalist, Thomas earned numerous nicknames, including “First Lady of the Press” and the “Dean of the White House Press Corps.” Her groundbreaking career helped clear the path for countless women in journalism; she not only led by example, she shattered the glass ceiling in the press room and then encouraged others to follow in her stead.

Thomas served as president of the Women’s National Press Club from 1959 to 1960, and financial secretary of the National Press Club (once women were allowed to join). She was elected the first woman president of the White House Correspondents Association, and was inducted as the first woman member of the Gridiron Club.

Thomas was the first woman and the first wire service reporter to ever receive the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award (other recipients include Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid). She also received more than 30 honorary degrees and numerous other awards, including the William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit and the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. In 1998, the White House Correspondents’ Association honored her by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.

On May 17, 2000, the day after United Press International was acquired by News World Communications Inc., an international media conglomerate controlled by Unification Church leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Thomas resigned in protest. She joined Hearst Newspapers as an opinion columnist two months later, but the move cost her the right to ask the first question in press briefings.

Despite such an illustrious career, Thomas retired in 2010 following the broadcast of controversial, off-hand statements she made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A rabbi who was visiting the White House pulled out a video camera and asked Thomas for comments about Israel. She replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she said they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” Thomas later apologized for the remarks, but they cost her a great deal of respect in the industry. The Society of Professional Journalists voted to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement, and her alma mater discontinued the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.

Outside of work, Thomas lived a fairly quiet life. She woke each day at dawn, and by 6 a.m. was reading the newspapers and wires as she drank her coffee. Her home office was filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and six of the books on those shelves bore her name.

At 51, she wed Douglas Cornell, an Associated Press reporter who she described as her “competition for 10 years and her husband for 11.” Since he was also a journalist, Cornell understood Thomas’ devotion to the job, so in that way, they were well-matched. Unfortunately, after only four years of marriage, Cornell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1982 at the age of 75. “He left a big hole in my life. He was a wonderful husband, wise and good and a great friend,” Thomas said. When asked if she liked being married, Thomas replied, “It was probably the most unexpected and wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Thomas died on July 20. Cause of death was not released. She was 92.

Photo by Michael Foley. Used with permission.

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Cory Monteith

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Categories: Actors

Cory MonteithCory Allan Michael Monteith, a Canadian actor best known for playing Finn Hudson on the hit Fox TV show “Glee,” was found dead on July 13 in a Vancouver hotel room.

He was 31.

Monteith’s body was discovered at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel shortly after noon. According to the Vancouver Police Department, he checked into the hotel on July 6 and was due to check out on Saturday. When he failed to do so, the staff went into the room and found him. Paramedics declared him dead on the scene.

The authorities said Monteith was alone at the time of his death, and there appeared to be no foul play. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

“…On behalf of the Vancouver Police, I want to pass on our condolences to the family, friends, castmates and millions of fans of Mr. Monteith,” acting police chief Doug LePard said in a statement. “As was the case in countless homes, I watched ‘Glee’ regularly with my daughters, and I know there will be shock and sadness in many households with the news of his tragic death.”

Born in Calgary, Alberta and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Monteith was the youngest son of Joe Monteith, who served in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and Ann McGregor, an interior decorator. His parents divorced when he was very young, and Monteith struggled to deal with the change in his family life. That struggle led him to attend 16 different schools — including one for troubled teens — and abuse drugs and alcohol. To support his habit, he eventually dropped out of school and began stealing.

When Monteith was 19, his family and friends held an intervention. He checked into rehab, got clean and eventually received his high school diploma. He also launched an acting career, playing minor roles in the films “Final Destination 3″ and “Deck the Halls,” and guest-starring on several TV shows, including “Smallville,” “Supernatural” and “Stargate SG-1.”

Monteith’s big break came in 2009 when he landed the role of Finn Hudson, a football player-turned glee club singing star on the show “Glee.” The part earned him a legion of fans known as “Gleeks” and a Teen Choice Award in 2011. The show’s cast also won a Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble in a comedy.

When Monteith wasn’t working on the show, he and the cast performed live shows in the U.S., Canada and Europe. In his spare time, he enjoyed hockey, basketball, surfing and playing the drums. He also stars in the upcoming independent film “All the Wrong Reasons.”

Monteith returned for another stint of rehab in March, but appeared to be healthy and in good spirits last month.

Adam Shankman, who frequently directed episodes of “Glee,” took to Twitter to express his sadness at Monteith’s death.

“Goodbye my amazing and beautiful friend. The lights in my world just grew dimmer. The world just lost one of our best. I love u so much…”

Monteith is survived by his parents, older brother Shaun and girlfriend, actress and co-star Lea Michele.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi. Used with permission.

Story originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Islam Bibi

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Law

Lt. Islam Bibi’s decision to become a police officer would not have raised eyebrows in the west. But signing up for such a dangerous job in southern Afghanistan turned her into a symbol of female empowerment.

Under the Taliban rule, women were banned from working outside of the home. They could not receive an education after the age of 8, be treated by male doctors or ride a bicycle. Women were not allowed to drive, vote, play sports, run for public office or appear on radio or television. On the rare occasions when women were allowed to leave their homes, they were required to wear a burqa, a garment that covered them from head to toe, and be accompanied by a close male relative.

Violating any of these rules, which were enforced by the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice, could lead to verbal abuse, beatings and execution. The religious police even punished rape victims — who were considered guilty of adultery and fornication — by publicly flogging or stoning them for their “crimes.”

Experts believe that 60 to 80 percent of Afghan marriages were arranged by force. According to a report by UN Women and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 56 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan occurred when the bride was under the age of 16. Domestic violence is endemic, and many women choose suicide to escape.

After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, the Karzai administration relaxed policies concerning women’s rights. Afghanistan’s new constitution, which was adopted in 2004, also recognized the equality of men and women, yet much of the country’s male population clung to the Taliban’s ultra-conservative outlook.

In the past decade, Afghan women have slowly started to emerge from the prisons that were their homes. They have removed the burqa, opened small businesses and even sent their daughters to school. These actions involved a great deal of courage since the Taliban continued to wage war on them by poisoning water supplies, fire-bombing schools, killing teachers and throwing acid on female students.

Bibi was one of those brave women.

At 10, she was forced to marry a man who was 43. Bibi had the first of her five children when she was just 15. Then in 2004, she decided to join the Afghan National Police because she needed a salary and wanted to create a safer future for her three sons and two daughters.

“Firstly I needed the money, but secondly I love my country,” Bibi said in April. “I feel proud wearing the uniform and I want to try to make Afghanistan a better and stronger country.”

As a police officer, Bibi enforced security, searched passengers at the airport, trained other female officers and protected voters at polling stations. She even single-handedly stopped a would-be suicide bomber from detonating his explosives by throwing herself on top of him when he resisted arrest.

Over the next nine years, Bibi rose through the ranks to become the most senior female officer serving in the Helmand province. She commanded a team of nearly three dozen female officers in the criminal investigation department in Lashkar Gah, and was often profiled in the international press as a role model.

For this, Bibi was regularly intimidated by insurgents and opium smugglers, and received numerous death threats. Some of those threats came from her own family. Her brother was so hell-bent on killing her for having the temerity to work that the government eventually decided to take away his gun.

On July 4, the extremists succeeded in stopping Bibi. She was riding a motorbike to work alongside her son-in-law when two gunmen opened fire. Bibi was seriously injured in the attack, and later died in the emergency room. Her son-in-law was also wounded.

She was 37.

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Gary David Goldberg

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Categories: Hollywood, Writers/Editors

Gary David Goldberg Gary David Goldberg, the Emmy-winning creator of “Family Ties,” died on June 23 of brain cancer. He was 68.

Born in Brooklyn, Goldberg was raised in a home with a close, extended family that was headed by a strong matriarch, his grandmother. He was a huge sports fan and a wanderer who had a bit of trouble figuring out what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Goldberg’s collegiate career, which he described as “prolonged and checkered,” involved attending numerous schools, including Brandeis University and San Diego State University. He only decided to become a scriptwriter at the urging of one of his professors.

Goldberg was working as a waiter at the Village Gate club in Greenwich Village in 1969 when he met his wife and the love his life, Dr. Diana Meehan. They were a couple of hippies — a product of their time — and spent the early part of their marriage traveling around the world, then running a day care center in Berkeley, Calif. Their relationship would later serve as the backdrop of one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

Goldberg broke into show business in the mid-1970s, penning scripts for “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Lou Grant,” “The Tony Randall Show” and “The Last Resort.” He won his first Emmy Award in 1977 for his work on the CBS drama “Lou Grant,” a spin-off of the successful series “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In 1981, Goldberg formed his own production company, UBU Productions. He would eventually produce nine TV shows, including the CBS program “Brooklyn Bridge,” a semi-autobiographical series about his childhood.

UBU Productions’ first endeavor, however, was “Family Ties,” a half-hour comedy about two left-wing parents raising three children, including a son who was very conservative. By its third season, “Family Ties” had become part of NBC’s much-touted and wildly popular “Must-See TV” Thursday night lineup. The show, which ran for seven seasons, earned Goldberg a second Emmy and transformed a very young actor by the name of Michael J. Fox into a star.

Goldberg later reunited with Fox for “Spin City,” another popular comedy that aired for six seasons on ABC. Interestingly, Fox once told Goldberg that if he hadn’t been cast in “Family Ties,” he would have given up acting entirely and returned home to Canada. Instead Fox found fame and fortune on the big and small screens. Actress Tracy Pollan, who played Fox’s girlfriend Ellen on “Family Ties,” later became his wife.

Goldberg received numerous honors for his work in Hollywood, including a Golden Globe, a Peabody, two Writers Guild Awards, five Humanitas Awards, the Producers Guild Award and the Valentine Davis Award. He was also a member of the Broadcasting Magazine Hall of Fame.

Even if TV audiences didn’t know his name, they certainly recognized Goldberg’s labrador retriever, who appeared in the closing credits of each show with the memorable tagline “Sit, Ubu, sit.” The tagline later served as the title of Goldberg’s 2008 autobiography. The book also featured the hilarious subtitle: “How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog and a lot less hair.”

But TV wasn’t Goldberg’s only medium. He also wrote and directed the films “Dad,” “Bye Bye Love” and “Must Love Dogs,” and published several blog items for The Huffington Post.

Goldberg is survived by his wife and two daughters, Shana Goldberg-Meehan, the Emmy-winning writer and producer of “Friends”; and Cailin Goldberg-Meehan, a freelance writer and contributor to The Huffington Post.

–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post

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Jairo Mora Sandoval

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Jairo Mora Sandoval Costa Rican environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval was passionate about protecting endangered leatherback turtles and their nests. That noble work may have cost him his life.

He was killed on May 31 at the age of 26.

Mora Sandoval was born in Costa Rica and became an animal lover at an early age. Nicknamed “Seal,” he grew up on a farm in Mata de Limon, rode horses and helped his family care for the area’s sea turtles. As a young adult, Mora Sandoval studied biology and worked for the animal rescue group Paradero Eco-Tour. In his spare time, he volunteered for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST), a nonprofit group that protects turtle nests from poachers on the country’s Caribbean coast.

Leatherback turtles are the largest of living turtles, growing up to 7 feet and 2,000 pounds. While they play an important role in marine ecology by keeping jellyfish populations down, humans continue to decimate their nesting areas. Currently, the leatherback is listed as a critically endangered species whose numbers have reportedly fallen to almost one-fifth of what they were in 1980.

Although sea turtles are protected by law in Costa Rica, poachers raid the animals’ nests and sell the eggs on the black market for $1 each. The eggs are often consumed in a drink as an aphrodisiac or traded for drugs. In response, members of WIDECAST patrol the beaches where these turtles lay their eggs.

A few weeks before Mora Sandoval’s death, a team of journalists from La Nacion accompanied him on an overnight patrol. During the interview, he decried the government’s claims that police had been watching over the beaches. Mora Sandoval rescued 172 turtle eggs that night, but looters still managed to destroy nine nests. No police patrols were ever spotted.

In recent years, conservationists have been threatened by “hueveros” (egg thieves) for trying to protect the turtles and their habitat. Mora Sandoval’s friends told the media that he received numerous death threats and was once ordered, at gunpoint, to stop patrolling.

On the night of May 30, Mora Sandoval and four female volunteers were patrolling Moin beach in the Limon province, an area that is frequently used by drug traffickers and turtle egg poachers. The group was ambushed by five armed and masked men, who kidnapped and robbed the women. They later escaped from their attackers and contacted police.

Mora Sandoval’s naked body was found face-down on a beach the next morning. According to WIDECAST director Didiher Chacon, Mora Sandoval was bound and beaten. Autopsy results listed cause of death as asphyxiation and blunt force trauma to the head.

Since Mora Sandoval’s slaying, WIDECAST has been forced to cancel all patrols at Moin beach, leaving the sea turtle population particularly vulnerable.

“We can’t risk human lives for this project,” Chacon said. “But this is probably the exact result that the killers were hoping for.”

Environmentalists have submitted a proposal to the government asking for park rangers to have more authority to stop poachers and for the designation of a new protected area to be named after Mora Sandoval. Conservation groups have also offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killers.

“Jairo’s murderers must be brought to justice so that sea turtle activists around Costa Rica and the world know that this will never be tolerated,” Todd Steiner, executive director of SeaTurtles.org, said. “The whole world is watching to make sure the Costa Rican government brings these thugs to justice and makes sea turtle nesting beaches safe for conservationists to do their work.”

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