On Sarah McClendon’s first day as a White House correspondent, Bill Clinton was still a twinkle in his mother’s eye. It was 1944, and McClendon–just out of the U.S. Army where she had served as a public information officer with the Women’s Army Corps in World War II–was a rookie reporter assigned to cover Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A thousand miles from her hometown of Tyler, Texas, she knew little about presidential politics and was at first too nervous to ask any questions.
Ten presidents later, McClendon is still covering the White House. Under the banner of her McClendon News Service (which includes two part-time staff members and one intern), she cranks out a weekly syndicated newspaper column, a biweekly newsletter, and a weekly radio commentary that airs on 1,200 stations across the nation. At the age of 85 (86 this July), McClendon is the true dean of the Washington press corps–a decade older than the venerable Helen Thomas of UPI.
Her age and dependence on a wheelchair, or cane, make it difficult for her to pursue stories as vigorously as she once did. But, continuing to fight for “the people’s right to know,” McClendon still doesn’t miss a day in the White House press room.