PBS journalist, Gwen Ifill, dies of cancer at 61

Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill, the co-anchor of PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff has died at the age of 61. The award-winning veteran journalist, who moderated two vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008, died of endometrial cancer and apparently did not tell others about her illness.

Sara Just, the executive producer of PBS NewsHour and WETA SVP, released a statement saying: “Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change. 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. We will forever miss her terribly.”

Gwen was a former reporter for both the New York Times and the Washington Post. She switched to television in the 1990s and covered politics and Congress for NBC News. In 1999, she moved to PBS as host of Washington Week, which later led to her becoming the co-host of NewsHour.

In 2009, she also authored a book entitled, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

She will be remembered as a pioneer for women and for African Americans in journalism, becoming the first African American woman to host a major political talk show.

Little Known Black History Fact: Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill was a pioneering Black journalist, providing a role model for young Blacks aspiring to media careers, especially women. Ms. Ifill succumbed to her battle with cancer Monday at the age of 61, prompting a nation to mourn one of its most respected journalists.

Ifill was born September 29, 1955 in New York City to a Panamanian-Barbadian minister father and a Barbadian mother. Her father’s ministry carried her and her siblings up and down the Eastern Seaboard while living humbly in church parsonages and in federally subsidized housing.

After graduating from Boston’s Simmons College in 1977 with a degree in communications, Ifill embarked on a print journalism career with stops at The Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post and the New York Times. She quickly gained a reputation as a tenacious reporter who asked tough questions, which served her well in the next and most notable phase of her career.

In 1999, Ifill started hosting her own political news show, PBS’ Washington Week in Review program. It was then where Ifill cut her teeth as a host who dug into her guests and voiced her disagreements with authority. When the show was renamed Washington Week, she remained its host and managing editor.

Alongside Judy Woodruff, Ifill became part of the first all-female news anchor in 2013 with PBS Newshour, a show she also anchored alone on Friday nights. Ifill made history once more when she became the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Ifill also authored a book in 2009 titled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

President Obama shared his condolences from the White House on Monday, calling Ifill a “powerful role model.”