Gwen Ifill, one of the nation’s most prominent journalists, has died after several months of cancer treatment, PBS confirmed Monday.
Ifill, 61, was moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, a weekly political discussion show. Ifill was also managing editor of PBS NewsHour, an hour-long evening newscast she co-anchored with Judy Woodruff. In 2009, she also wrote a book about President Obama, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
“It is with extreme sadness that we share the news that Gwen Ifill passed away earlier today surrounded by family and friends,” according to a statement from Paula Kerger, PBS’ CEO. “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.”
Ifill, a native of New York City, was a trailblazer in many ways. Prior to joining PBS in 1999, Ifill was one of the first African-American journalists to hold prominent positions in both broadcasting and print journalism. She was chief congressional and political correspondent for NBC News, White House correspondent for The New York Times and a political reporter at The Washington Post. She also worked at the Baltimore Evening Sun and the Boston Herald American.
Ifill covered seven presidential campaigns in her career and was the first African-American female journalist to moderate a vice-presidential debate. In 2004, she moderated the debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, and the 2008 debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
In a news conference Monday, President Obama noted the groundbreaking achievements in Ifill’s career and said she “did her country a great service.”
“She not only informed today’s citizens, but she also inspired tomorrow’s journalists,” he said. “She was especially a powerful role model for young women and girls who admired her integrity, her tenacity and her intellect, and for whom she blazed a trail as one half of the first all-female anchor team on network news.”
PBS’ Kerger said Ifill pursued journalistic excellence in her uniquely calm and graceful style. “Her contributions to thoughtful reporting and civic discourse simply cannot be overstated,” Kerger said. “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. Our sorrow at her passing is a part of our profound gratitude for all that she did for our system and our nation. It was an honor to know Gwen and to work with her. All of us at PBS express our sincere condolences to Gwen’s friends and family.”
Ifill’s work was honored by many, including the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center, Ebony magazine and Boston’s Ford Hall Forum. She received more than 20 honorary doctorates and served on the boards of the News Literacy Project and the Committee to Protect Journalists, PBS said.
“Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change,” Sara Just, executive producer of PBS NewsHour said in a statement. “She was a mentor to so many across the industry and her professionalism was respected across the political spectrum. She was a journalist’s journalist and set an example for all around her.”
“So many people in the audience felt that they knew and adored her. She had a tremendous combination of warmth and authority. She was stopped on the street routinely by people who just wanted to give her a hug and considered her a friend after years of seeing her on TV,” Just said.