Ifill was a widely heralded news source and host of PBS Newshour and Washington Week. She rose through the ranks of journalism, defeating many stereotypes and “isms” along the way.
Her impact in news and media will be felt long after her death. We gathered 10 of her best moments as we mourn the loss of an industry giant.
“She was a standard-bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change,” said PBS Newshour‘s executive producer, Sara Just. At a news conference on Monday afternoon, President Obama called Ifill an “extraordinary journalist.”
“I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting, even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews,” he said.
Ifill was born on September 29, 1955 in New York City to Urcille Ifill Sr., an immigrant who originated from Panama, and Eleanor Ifill, who immigrated from Barbados. Her father was an AME pastor and civil rights advocate, according to her biography page on PBS.
She attended Simmons College in Boston and in undergrad began interning at the Boston Herald-America, where she faced several racist threats. Allegedly, an older White staff member once left her a note that said, “N—– go home,” The New York Times reports.
In spite of the obstacles, Ifill accepted a position as a reporter at the paper. From the Herald-America, she went on to work for some of the most prominent American news publications, including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC News.
In 1999, Ifill took over as host of Washington Week, becoming the first Black woman to moderate a major political talk show.
In 2013, Ifill joined PBS Newshour as a co-anchor and managing editor after several years of regular appearances. “The ‘NewsHour’ is how I think news should be,” Ifill once said. “It’s serious and it’s smart and it covers things in a way that other people don’t. It gives me a chance to pursue the sober side of my interest in journalism and also have the impact of television.”
Two vice presidential debates were moderated by Ifill; Dick Cheney and John Edwards in 2004, and Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in 2008. Ifill again broke ground by becoming the first Black woman chosen for the job. Saturday Night Live lampooned both debates, and host Queen Latifah portrayed Ifill as moderator.
Ifill always composed herself with dignity and grace, but she was no pushover. When she walked into the room, she demanded and received respect from various colleagues in the field.
Brent Staples, close friend, author and editorial writer for The New York Times, wrote about Ifill’s temperament after news of her death broke:
“Those of us who worked even briefly with the journalist Gwen Ifill, who died on Monday at the age of 61, can attest to her deeply held sense of fairness, the preternatural grace she showed under pressure and the way she kept her composure in the face of both personal and professional slights that would have left many of us breathing fire and brimstone.”
Ifill received many accolades for her tireless work, including a Peabody Award in 2008, induction into the Journalism Hall of Fame in 2009 and the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2012, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Media Center in 2015. Ifill was the 2016 recipient of the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism from Columbia University, but died the week of the awards ceremony.
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