The death this weekend of Helen Thomas — legendary dean of the White House press corps — has a Westport angle.
Longtime Westport obstetrician/gynecologist Danny Adler met her at a press function in the early 1980s. Despite vastly different occupations, they struck up a unique, distant friendship that lasted through their lifetimes.
Danny was introduced to Helen by his son, William Adler, a UPI correspondent in Washington, D.C. Danny wanted to meet her because he sensed they were kindred spirits: progressive, outspoken, feisty and unafraid of making people mad.
William cautioned his father not to get his hopes up about connecting with Helen — after all, she was the busiest, hardest-working journalist in Washington, arriving at work before her much-younger colleagues, and staying in the office until the wee hours.
But Danny and Helen hit it off immediately. They exchanged phone numbers. And when Danny was home in Connecticut they had occasional long chats about politics. He encouraged her to “give ’em hell” — and she always did.
Helen was impressed by Danny’s knowledge of history and international politics. (A voracious reader, he harbored a secret wish to be a political correspondent, not a doctor).
Their friendship continued for decades — eventually moving to email. It was easy for Danny to remember their birthdays. He was born on August 3, 1920. She was born a day later, that same year. Danny died 7 months ago.
The fact that Helen Thomas made time for someone she met incidentally — and established such a strong connection — adds private testimony to her public greatness.
William Adler — who grew up in Westport, and has returned here to live — has his own Helen Thomas story. In 1983, as UPI spokesman, he asked her to help him get a group of Latin American editors into the White House for a private reception with President Reagan.
The date was set. But right before the visit the U.S. invaded the small island of Grenada. Press secretary Larry Speakes wanted to cancel the editors’ visit, but relented on the grounds that Helen Thomas could not ask the President about the invasion. William passed Speakes’ condition on to Helen, who tacitly agreed.
The editors were ushered into a reception room. Helen immediately scooted to the front, charged up to Reagan and shouted, “Mr. President, what’s the latest from Grenada?”
(One more Helen Thomas-Westport connection: Current resident Allan Siegert worked with her in Washington in the 1980s.)