TROY (AP) – Hundreds of family members, friends and journalists filled the suburban Detroit church pioneering journalist Helen Thomas attended as a child for her memorial service Thursday.

“During Helen’s entire 70-year career, she was a defender, a champion for the public’s right to know,” her niece, Suzanne Geha, said in the eulogy at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Troy. “She never let up on that. She considered it her mission in life to keep the public informed.”

Geha said her aunt treated her seat in the White House briefing room as a public trust, The Detroit News reported.

“She considered that the people’s seat,” Geha said. “She was going to be the eyes and ears for the people who couldn’t be there. She never squandered that responsibility.”

The 92-year-old Thomas died last month at her Washington, D.C., apartment. She was born to Lebanese immigrants in Winchester, Ky., and raised in Detroit.

“She was just so passionate,” said Beth Swanson, Thomas’ great-niece. “She had a job to do, and she did it.”

Thomas, a graduate of Detroit’s Wayne State University, worked much of her career as a United Press International reporter and White House correspondent. She grilled nine U.S. presidents, starting with John F. Kennedy.

She was one of the first female reporters to cover harder White House news – beyond lighter stories about presidents’ children, wives and fashions.

“She knew for a long time she wanted to be a news reporter and she wanted the truth presented to the public,” said her sister, Josephine Thomas Geha, 95, of Grosse Pointe Woods. “Helen wanted the truth to come out.”

Thomas was known for her tenacity and opinions. She resigned in 2010 as a Hearst Newspapers columnist after calling on Israelis to get “out of Palestine.”

Suzanne Geha said a “celebration of her life” is planned for October in Washington.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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