When it comes to the history of women in journalism and public relations in Boise, Helen Light Thomson should be listed right on top of the “pioneer” column.
You know how some people just seem to be in the middle of most significant events that define a city? Helen Thomson always seemed to be in the mix after moving into the Boise area in the early 1950s.
Thomson, who died in March at the age of 98, was a major media contributor in the Boise area for decades and a groundbreaking female media member who was able to move between the worlds of newspapers and public relations with ease for decades while also being a committed parent and community volunteer.
“My mother was the multi-tasker of all time, she really was,” said Julie Thomson Backe, Helen’s youngest daughter. “Her recipe for happiness was, what can I do to help others? My mom was always involved in something. She always said that she was very fortunate in that during her lifetime, many women had to choose between a career and a family, and she was one of the ones who got to have both.”
Backe said she was not sure exactly what led her mother to journalism and public relations, but she does know that her mother had a deep love for reading and passed that passion on to her children. Thomson loved being a parent and stressed an “others first” philosophy, but also encouraged her kids to pursue their interests, Backe said.
“She had a song in her heart every day,” Backe said.
Check out this resume: Thomson became one of the first business editors for the Idaho Statesman, moving up from her tenure during the 1950s working for the paper’s Women’s Department for well-known features editor and columnist Betty Penson-Ward.
“My mom told me the women’s restroom used to have a whole stack of hats, so they could grab one if they needed to go cover an event,” Backe said.
Helen Thomson left the paper in 1963 to take a job as publications adviser, journalism instructor and publicity director at Boise Junior College, and she continued her work at the college as it became Boise College.
While Thomson was working at Boise Junior College, the Idaho Statesman named her a Distinguished Citizen in 1966, calling her “A crusader for community betterment at heart and journalist by choice.”
That same year, The March of Dimes named Thomson a White Rose Honoree for her community involvement: “Helen’s many accomplishments are an ingrained part of Boise’s history.” Thomson also was named Woman of the Year by the Boise Altrusa Club and an Idaho Merit Mother in 1968.
That was the year Thomson left the college and began work as public information officer for the Idaho Foundation for Medicine and Biology Inc. and the Mountain States Regional Medical Program.
Thomson also did some public relations for the City of Boise and the Boise Chamber of Commerce, and eventually retired as coordinator of volunteer services for recording for the blind at the Idaho State Library.
“One of her biggest thrills was recording Idaho authors reading their own works, like (renowned Idaho author) Grace Jordan reading ‘Home Below Hell’s Canyon,’” Backe said.
Thomson’s volunteer work was vast and varied, including her pioneering work helping to create the North End Neighborhood Association, which was founded in her back yard as the group was trying to fight the placement of a new gas station on Harrison Boulevard. Sen. Frank Church helped write the by-laws for the organization and later called Helen Thomson the “ideal volunteer.”
Thomson put in a lot of work to support the Morrison Center for Performing Arts, which took decades to be built after Harry Morrison donated the land to the city in 1959. Thomson was a friend of Velma Morrison and one of the 255 people from the community who helped put on the Vaudeville Revisited show in 1980, which seemed to be the pivotal piece of citizen involvement in the long battle to get a premiere center for the performing arts built in Boise.
A particular thrill for Thomson was being able to play the character of Mrs. Eynsford-Hill in the performance of “My Fair Lady,” which opened the Morrison Center in 1984.
Helen Ruby Light was born in 1913 in Chicago. She later attended Indiana University, where she majored in journalism. One of her first jobs after that was working as a public information director for the Indiana State Department of Health, before moving to an editorial job at the Oil and Gas Journal in Tulsa, where she joined the Red Cross staff during WWII.
That’s where Helen met her future husband, Jamie Thomson, who was stationed at Fort Gruber. The Thomson family moved to Boise in 1952 when Jamie was transferred here. Helen began working with the Boise Ditch Safety Committee in 1953 on safety improvements to all the major irrigation canals, which began a life-long commitment to public service in Boise.
Idaho Gov. Robert Smylie drafted Helen Thomson to be a delegate from Idaho for the White House Conference on Aging during the Eisenhower administration.
Helen Thomson loved to play piano and spent many hours at local nursing homes, where she displayed her skills during “Happy Hour with Helen.”
Thomson is survived by her husband, Jamie, who is now 103 years old; three sons, James, John and Joel Thomson; daughter Julie Thomson Backe; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In Remembrance is a profile on a Treasure Valley resident who has recently passed away. To recommend a friend or loved one for an In Remembrance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.