Helen Dewar: Local Girl Makes Good

Who can resist a good biography, especially when the subject excels at her calling? It doesn't matter whether that person lived long ago or more recently. The story becomes even more compelling when the subject is homegrown and makes a positive impact on the world.


A couple weeks ago, one of the Museum's patrons introduced me to Helen Dewar. Dewar was a hometown girl, born in 1936 and raised in Stockton. After grammar and middle school, she attended the Branson School, in Marin County, and went on to Stanford University, where she edited the Stanford Daily.

Dewar chose journalism as a profession. Her first full-time reporting job was with the Northern Virginia Sun, Arlington, Virginia, where she covered education. In 1961, the Washington Post hired her. Over the next eighteen years, Dewar covered Metropolitan D.C., the Virginia State government, Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, and labor issues. In 1979, her focus shifted to the U.S. Senate.

She excelled in that position. In fact, she accomplished something difficult to imagine in today's political environment: She won praise from both sides of the aisle.

At the time of Dewar's death in November 2006, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called her "a legend in Washington [and] a reporter in the best traditions of the profession—an eye for detail and a keen sense of truth. Helen," he said, "ensured that her readers had a true reflection of the major stories in the capital."

On the other side of the aisle, Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) described her as "a journalist of the highest caliber. She was a true Washington reporter whose love of the Congress and determination to ask the right questions earned the respect—and occasionally the fear—of those she covered….I will especially miss Helen's sharp wit," continued Kennedy, "and the way her humor would inspire laughter even in the midst of a tense Senate battle."

Dewar received numerous awards: the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress (1984), the Washington Post's Eugene Meyer Award (1987), induction into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Press Club Foundation (2006).

Dewar died in Alexandria, Virginia, of complications related to breast cancer. Her life stands as a reminder that the list of noteworthy San Joaquin County natives includes women as well as men and that it extends well beyond careers we most often connect with agriculture, the foundation of the County's economy.

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