This Sunday I’m devoting some blog space for a tribute to my cousin, Helen Dewar. Regular readers of the Washington Post for the past 40 years will no doubt recognize her name – she was a veteran political reporter for the paper, first covering Virginia politics, and for 25 years, national politics and the US Senate.
More importantly, she was a trailblazer as she was the first woman to cover these beats at a time when women didn’t really do that sort of thing. She got her start at Stanford Daily, where she covered campus and state politics, and was the first woman to edit the Daily.
While browsing the archives of the Stanford Daily, I found a fun little gem in the stacks of old papers. Helen had covered the student council elections in the early 1950s, and had the lead story on the results. The winner for the vice president position was a
young woman named Dianne Goldman – whom you know as Sen. Feinstein. It was interesting that less than 40 years later, Feinstein would be serving as a US Senator and Helen would be the Posts’s top correspondent in the Senate.
Throughout her career, she was recognized for her honest, integrity, and her dedication to the news. Before I moved to Seattle in 1994 to work on a US Senate race, she told me more about the state’s political history, and that of its legendary US Senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, than I’d learned from anywhere, or anyone, else.
It was also fun to have lunch with her in the Senate dining room as inevitably, someone important would walk up to talk to her. I got a chance to meet Sen. Bob Dole this way, as well as a few other Senate leaders.
When Helen retired in 2004, her retirement party had quite a number of Congressional leaders, Democrat and Republican, who had enjoyed a great relationship, due in large part to her hard work and commitment to the facts, not silliness (as it seems most mainstream publications engage in today).
This past week, the Washington Press Club Foundation honored Helen with their Lifetime Achievement Award. This was another in a string of honors she’d received – last month Virginia Commonwealth University inducted her into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame for her work as one of the first women to cover state politics in Virginia.
The Washington Post covered the event earlier this week, and it was featured on C-SPAN, but I couldn’t tape it (and oddly enough you can’t download C-SPAN on BitTorrent yet). Media Bistro’s FishbowlDC blog also covered the event as well, which was cool.
While the Post’s story does tell you a little about the event, it fails to mention something I got a kick out of – a short video tribute recorded by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy. I thought that was really cool of them to do, so I’m tracking down a copy of the DVD for myself and my various Dewar relatives.
More importantly, though, I think that Helen’s career and her integrity stand out even more as we live in an era where “newspapers of record” routinely pump out half-truths and falsehoods, and the DC Noise Machine does a lot to stoke partisan fires, and do little to get things done.
And in an era when most journalists think it’s All About Them, Helen’s quiet, steadfast, honest reporting of the news is a tremendous contrast to what passes for journalism today. So for now, I’m paying tribute to my cousin Helen’s life and work – and hope that despite her retirement that the concept of honest jourmalism doesn’t retire along with her.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com
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