On Friday October 12th, 2012, the Antiochian Heritage Foundation  hosted its first annual Person of the Year Award Banquet. The purpose of the gathering was to honor renowned journalist Helen Thomas by bestowing on her the Antonian Gold Medal, the highest honor of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. The event took place at Kogok Hall in Ss. Peter & Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church , Potomac, Maryland. The following is an account of the evening given by committee member Tammy Ilyas Alvarez:
It was an event to remember for both the honoree, Journalist Helen Thomas, and the many faithful friends, admirers and family members who were there as a testament to this most deserving member of our community. Many present had traveled great distances including from overseas to participate in the tribute. Among the many attendees present were distinguished VIP’S from the White House and the State Department, as well as members of the Diplomatic Corps and visiting clergy.
The electrifying evening was both emotional and exciting. More than 300 guests greeted Helen as she maneuvered her way through the crowd of well wishers gathered to congratulate her on receiving an honor, which has only been bestowed on a very select, deserving few.
The Very Reverend Father George Rados, Pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul gave the invocation. Throughout the evening, a professionally produced video gave us a glimpse of the life and work of the famous Helen Thomas. The speakers paid tribute to Helen Thomas and her remarkable accomplishments as a pacesetter for women during an era when women’s qualifications and talents were not recognized as equal to those of their male counterparts. Helen defied the odds without allowing adversity to stand in her way.
The first speaker was Camille Nowfel, former State Department White House Presidential Interpreter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to President George W. Bush, inclusively. In his remarks, recalling his close professional relationship with Helen, he best described the woman we have all come to admire in words she, herself, used on another occasion. “Helen . . .” Mr. Nowfel stated, said that she “ . . . did not get into this business to be loved, but rather to be respected for being fair.” In addition, Mr. Nowfel felt it important to share this defining quote from one of Helen’s speeches. “Too often those in government have lied to reporters and in so doing, they have lied to the American people.”
Also asked to comment on her experience with Helen’s many years of unwavering service to the truth was the extraordinarily gifted artist and sculptor, Susan T. McElhinney. Ms. McElhinney’s brilliant piece, a Bronze of Helen Thomas, is currently on display at the Arab-American National Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, in Dearborn, Michigan. Some excerpts of Ms. McElhinney’s speech described Helen Thomas as she came to know her during the many hours she sat for the portrait at her studio. She spoke of Helen as, “ . . . an American story of a girl of immigrant parents, the 9th child of George and Mary Antonious. As they passed through immigration, Antonious became Thomas. They declared themselves American with no hyphen.” A favorite quote of Helen’s, which Susan McElhinney remembered, was from, “To A Louse, “ by Robert Burns, the Scottish Poet, or as Helen calls him, “Bobby”. “Oh, would some power, the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”
As the evening progressed the guests remained at complete attention to the speeches. Many were awestruck by the numerous proud accomplishments attributed to the woman who moved mountains, leaving no stone unturned in her quest for a career as an American Journalist. The former Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations and the United States, The Honorable Clovis Maksoud, offered words of glowing praise in his congratulatory speech for Helen and her illustrious career. In her remarks, Ruth Ann Skaff, Executive Director of the American Society and the Priory in the United States of the Order of St. John, credited Helen with having influenced her by being an inspiration throughout her life.
As I reflect over the evening’s events, the words which come to my mind are those written by Paul Anka for a song made famous by Frank Sinatra. Following are the paraphrased words from the song, “My Way,” which might easily have been written for, if not by Helen. These are a word-picture of her courage:
To Say The Things She Truly Feels And Not Words Of One Who Kneels,
The Record Shows, She Took The Blows And Did It Her Way!
The evening culminated with Albert Mokhiber, the emcee and chairman of the event, introducing Khourieh Lynn Gabriel. Lynn is, herself, an accomplished professional writer and devoted wife to Economos Antony Gabriel. It was her words which I now share with you, which brought tears to our eyes and smiles to our faces. As a very personal friend of Helen Thomas, Lynn spoke the following words giving a picture of Helen as a very special woman, a friend and mentor, as well as a Journalist:
This evening we are here to remind Helen that it is she who honors us by what she has made of her life and her work. Helen Thomas is one of this world’s rare and precious gems. As such, she should be recognized for having worked with her God to totally form herself. She is a self-polished diamond who cut every facet of the gem that became her career with the sharp instruments of her talent and courage. The rarity of that gem is made visible through the most unique tools available to Helen in an exclusive way. These tools are intelligence and integrity.
Although Helen, alone, is responsible for the formation of her own professional life, her appearance on the Journalistic Scene in our lifetime is no coincidence.
We are all co-creators of all that we do with God, who sees and guides all that happens in our world. He knew that the Journalistic field was still dominated by men and rife with the “old boys' club” mentality. God took Helen’s hand and she took a plunge. In so doing, she knowingly or unknowingly changed the outcomes forever! Knowingly or not, she fulfilled God’s purpose for herself and others with every decision she made and every step she took.
She was, to me, and remains to many today the inspiration to enter the arena in which battles to defend the First Amendment are fought. Her determination to be a Player and not a Cheerleader opened the door to a whole new realm of equity in that forum. I have had a career (albeit an iddybiddy one by comparison) because of the inspiration of Helen Thomas.
In addition . . . I love Helen Thomas!! She does not cease to inspire! She remains vital! She is brimming with ideas, opinions, analyses, stories, yet to be written. So how do we dare to waste any of our God-given gifts if our own Helen still brims with vitality?
Helen has hammered home the fundamental ideal that our system of government must have the free press to complete the system of checks and balances.
Finally, Helen is the embodiment of the very spirit of the comment of the philosopher, Edward Hale: "I am only one, but I am one I cannot do everything, but I can do something. The something I can do, I ought to do and by God I will!"
In presentation of the Antonian Gold medal, the Very Reverend Economos Antony Gabriel then read the letter from His Eminence Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Primate of the Self Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. “. . . Helen, know that we are proud of you for your stand and there is no need to waver from the truth. You have defended the poor and downtrodden, the homeless and the refugees. For that, everyone here tonight respects you . . .” The Antonian Gold Medal is the highest award of the Archdiocese for one of exceptional capabilities of service and love.
The Ss. Peter & Paul Choir sang “God Grant You Many Years” followed by the Clergy who spontaneously encircled Helen and broke out into Mustageen, “AXIOS! SHE IS WORTHY!” The Benediction was given by the Very Reverend Father Joseph Rahal, Pastor of St. George Church in Washington D.C.