By Erik Wasson
President Obama on Saturday said he and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaThe Hill's 12:30 Report Obamas dance with R2-D2, stormtroopers on Star Wars Day The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE were saddened by the death of longtime White House journalist Helen Thomas, calling her a “true pioneer” who opened doors and broke down barriers for generations of women.
Thomas died on Saturday after a long illness. She was 92.
Thomas covered every president from John F. Kennedy to Obama and long held the informal title of "Dean of the White House Press Corps."
In a statement, Obama said Thomas “never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes. What made Helen the ‘Dean of the White House Press Corps’ was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account.”
“Our thoughts are with Helen’s family, her friends, and the colleagues who respected her so deeply,” he said
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Thomas "legendary" in a post on Twitter.
My thoughts & prayers are with the family of the legendary Helen Thomas who showed that a woman could not only do the job but do it better.— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) July 20, 2013
Thomas sat in the front row at White House briefings as a correspondent for United Press International and later for Hearst.
Thomas broke the glass ceiling at the upper echelon of Washington reporting. She was the first female president of the White House Correspondents Association.
She stepped down in 2010 after controversial remarks about Jews and Israel.
“Women and men who’ve followed in the press corps all owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened. All of our journalism is the better for it,” said Steven Thomma, president of the White House Correspondents Association.
“At her urging in 1962, [President John F.] Kennedy said he would not attend the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association unless it was opened to women for the first time. It was,” Thomma said in a statement.
--This report was originally published at 10:19 a.m. and last updated at 3:33 p.m.