DETROIT -

Longtime White House journalist Helen Thomas has died at age 92 after a long illness, sources told CNN Saturday.

She was a fixture at White House news conferences and alumni of Wayne State University.

In a statement Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour said, "We are saddened by the loss of a true pioneer and one of our most notable alumni. Her courage, intellect, tenacity and wit made her a force to be reckoned with and an icon in journalism. The controversy in her final years does not overshadow her accomplishments over a long and distinguished career in the profession she loved."

Thomas covered 10 presidents over nearly half a century, and became a legend in the industry.

President Barack Obama also issued a statement on Thomas' passing saying in part, "Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Helen Thomas. Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. She covered every White House since President Kennedy's, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents - myself included - on their toes."

Former WOOD TV8 anchor Suzanne Geha, who the niece of Helen Thomas, posted a family statement on Facebook:

"Our family today is mourning the loss of our loved one, Helen Thomas, former White House correspondent and columnist. It is with saddened hearts that we inform you of the passing of our sister and aunt, Helen Thomas. Surrounded by family and friends, she died peacefully in her Washington, D.C. home Saturday morning, July 20, 2013. Helen Thomas devoted her nearly 70-year career in journalism to the pursuit of the public’s right to know. She was a champion of the First Amendment fervently advocating for the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. For years, she proudly occupied her front row seat in the Press Briefing Room at the White House, considering it the people’s chair in the people’s house. She always acknowledged the privilege of being the eyes and ears of the public, and she boldly and unabashedly asked the hard questions to hold our leaders accountable.

Helen Thomas began her career in the 1940s as a young woman working in a man’s business overcoming many institutional barriers that kept women from equal access. Through her tenacity, integrity, and willingness to follow-up any lead and work any hour of the day or night, she reached the pinnacle of her profession and paved the way for the next generations of women to follow.

Helen will be greatly missed by her three surviving sisters and her many nieces and nephews, cousins, and dear friends. We will always remember her for the passionate way she sought the truth, for her overwhelming love and generosity, and for her unfaltering faith in mankind. Helen Thomas will be brought back home to Detroit, the beloved city of her youth, where she will be buried."