Gwen Ifill, one of the most prominent political journalists in the country, has died, Tuesday, November 14th at at a hospice center in Washington. The renowned PBS journalist covered politics for some of the country’s premier newspapers before transitioning to broadcast journalism and making her greatest mark as one of the most prominent TV anchors of her generation. She was 61, the cause was endometrial cancer, said her brother, Roberto Ifill.
Her ill health led to recent absences from her jobs as co-anchor of “The PBS NewsHour” and as moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week” roundtable public affairs show. In February, she co-moderated a Democratic primary debate in Wisconsin between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
“Gwen was one of America’s leading lights in journalism and a fundamental reason public media is considered a trusted window on the world by audiences across the nation,” PBS President Paula Kerger said in a statement. “She often said that her job was to bring light rather than heat to issues of importance to our society. Gwen did this with grace and a steadfast commitment to excellence.”
While other African-Americans such as Bernard Shaw of CNN and Max Robinson of ABC may have performed highly visible anchor duties long before Ms. Ifill came on the national radar. But with her appointment in 1999 to lead what was then called “Washington Week in Review,” she became one of the first black women to preside over a major national political show.
President Barack Obama remembered “Washington Week” moderator and “PBS NewsHour” co-anchor Gwen Ifill, who died Monday at age 61. Obama called Ifill a friend and “extraordinary journalist.” “I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews,” Obama said. “She was an especially powerful role model for young women and girls who admired her integrity, her tenacity and her intellect.”
Born September 29, 1955, Gwen Ifill became the first African-American woman to head a national political show, the “Washington Week in Review,” in 1999. Before joining PBS, Ifill was a chief congressional correspondent for NBC News, a White House correspondent for the New York Times and was a reporter for the Washington Post. When she started in the newspaper business she recalled that the men at the time did not know how to deal with an educated black woman. “never seen anything like me — a college-educated black woman and they didn’t know how to deal with me,” she said according to published reports.
In 1994 she made the leap into broadcasting and covered the Clinton White House and the impeachment proceedings. She joined Judy Woodruff in 2013 where they became the first all-women anchor team to broadcast the news on PBS “NewsHour.” She learned to not accept the limits placed upon her by society, but learned how to transcend those limits by telling the stories that needed to be told, NPR reported. “Personally, I have a flat spot right in the front of my head from trying to break down walls my entire career, forcing diversity of thought and opinion into newsrooms and onto the air. Whatever else you do with your lives, I hope you remember to fight those battles, too.”
Ifill was considered one of the most prominent journalists of her generation and covered a range of stories from politics to foreign affairs. She covered 7 presidential campaigns and moderated debates between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. Ifill held numerous round-table discussions called “America After Ferguson,” a discussion on Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo. During the 2016 election season she co-moderated the Democratic primary debate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
“Gwen Ifill was a heroine to so many of us,” shares Vanessa K. DeLuca, Editor-in-Chief, Essence Magazine. “Her unflinching, direct and relentless journalim was an extension of her integrity and character. When she DM’d me recently to ask if I would go on PBSNewsHour for an election conversation, I felt I had passed a special litmus test, and I’ll never forget her kind encouragement. She was a true champion for Essence women everywhere.”
“Gwen was a transformative voice among journalists,” shares Sarah Glover, President, National Association of Black Journalists. “Her professionalism and poise, coupled with an innate doggedness to report the story, reverberated throughout the industry. Gwen covered politics and the presidential race with class, wisdom and insight, separating her from the pack.”
“Gwen Ifill was the epitome of hard work, purity in journalism and striving for excellence,” shares Rashida Jones, Managing Editor, MSNBC. “The outpouring of those who benefitted from her guidance as a mentor and role model is the greatest example of the reach of her life’s work. Her voice and perspective will be missed during this important time for our country.”
I remember meeting her, here in the halls of 30 Rock when she worked for NBC,” recalls Janice Huff, Meteorologist, WNBC. ” Her smile was welcoming, her personality — effervescent. I admired her intelligence, her reporting skills, her style. Her passion for news was obvious, she was a shining beacon for all women of all ages to follow. Gone too soon, but what an impact she made on our industry, for all of us to see and be proud of.”
BW pays tribute and celebrates the life of Gwen Ifill, who held politician’s feet to the fire like no one else and showed journalists like myself how it should be done. Ms. Ifill gave us the blueprint, and while she leaves a void that will be hard to fill, she has been an inspiration to Black Westchester Magazine and myself in particular, giving many of us something to aspire to.