By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Gwen Ifill, who earned dozens of accolades and awards for her deft work as moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and co-anchor and managing editor of “PBS NewsHour,” has died at the age of 61.
Ifill died at a Washington, D.C. area hospice after a battle with cancer.
The news of her death spread quickly early Monday, as family, friends and fans shared their favorite memories of Ifill on television, radio and the Internet.
“Working first for newspapers and later on television, Gwen brought a still, all-too-rare sight into the homes of all Americans: a Black woman delivering the news and sharp insight on our nation’s political process,” the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Northwest, Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “Gwen covered more than a half-dozen presidential campaigns and her success inspired us all, inspiring a generation of aspiring, young Black journalists and young female journalists to follow the path she boldly blazed forward, no matter how many racist and sexist attacks she faced.”
Lamar added that Ifill used her platform to mentor countless young people and her fame to give back to her beloved church and community.
When Ifill published the 2009 best-selling book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” she donated some of the proceeds to help restore Metropolitan’s historic building.
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) also mourned the loss of Ifill, a longtime member of the organization.
“I am saddened to hear of Gwen Ifill’s passing. Gwen was a transformative voice among journalists. Her professionalism and poise, coupled with an innate doggedness to report the story, reverberated throughout the industry,” NABJ President Sarah Glover said in a statement. “Gwen covered politics and the presidential race with class, wisdom and insight, separating her from the pack.”
Ifill joined PBS in 1999, reporting on politics for “NewsHour” and moderating “Washington Week.” In 2013 she was named co-anchor of the PBS flagship evening news program along with Judy Woodruff.
Ifill was one of the most successful journalists to make the transition from print to television. Earlier in her career, she reported for “The Baltimore Evening Sun” and “The Boston Herald American.”
Later, she was a local and national political reporter for “The Washington Post” and went on to hold one of the most respected jobs in the industry as a White House correspondent for “The New York Times.” When she made the transition to television, Ifill became the chief congressional and political correspondent for NBC News in 1994.
A long-time and dedicated member of NABJ, she was inducted into the Association’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
Respected throughout the industry, Ifill co-moderated one of the presidential debates between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders earlier this year, and moderated the 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, and the 2008 debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
Many of the giants in media took to social media to pay tribute to Ifill.
“She was a role model to me and to every woman, especially black women who took up the calling of journalism,” said MSNBC’s Joy Reid.
CNN’s Dana Bash said that Gwen Ifill always cheered her fellow journalists on in this forum and others.
Ifill’s loss was felt by some of the nation’s biggest politicians, all the way to the White House.
“Gwen was a friend of ours, she was an extraordinary journalist,” President Barack Obama tweeted. “She not only informed today’s citizens, but she inspired tomorrow’s journalists.”
“Filled with integrity. Warm. Fun. Walked with the powerful but never forgot where she came from,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted.
“Child of immigrants, trailblazer, role model. Gwen Ifill made this a better country. New York City mourns a consummate journalist and human being,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Ifill was the platinum standard for political journalists and she was such an inspiration to African-American women in the business, said former NABJ President Vanessa Williams.
“She was a tough, smart reporter, with a warm, generous spirit who never hesitated to help, financially and with her time and talents, when asked, whether by NABJ or by a student who approached her for a few words of advice and a selfie,” Williams said.
Born on Sept. 29, 1955, in the Queens borough New York City to the former Eleanor Husband and Oliver Urcille Ifill Sr., an A.M.E. minister, Ifill was the fifth of six children and she was raised, as her father was periodically reassigned, in Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, Buffalo, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, in church parsonages and stints in federally subsidized housing.
“I knew who these people were because they were me,” she said, according to the New York Times. Being a preacher’s daughter, she said, “means you always have to be good.”
Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a former “NewsHour” correspondent, said that she and Ms. Ifill, both daughters of ministers, were equipped with a moral armor “that served her and me well as we traversed roads not usually traversed by women who looked like us.”