Longtime PBS Journalist Gwen Ifill Dead at 61

Journalist and news anchor Gwen Ifill. Photo by Getty Images.

Journalist and news anchor Gwen Ifill. Photo by Getty Images.

Gwen Ifill, a renowned journalist and anchor for PBS NewsHour, died Monday after a hard-fought battle with cancer. She was 61 years old.

“It is with extremely heavy hearts that we must share that our dear friend and beloved colleague Gwen Ifill passed away this afternoon following several months of cancer treatment,” the network announced Monday. “She was surrounded by loving family and many friends whom we ask that you keep in your thoughts and prayers.”

PBS NewsHour executive producer and WETA senior vice president Sara Just called Ifill “a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry that’s going through seismic change,” noting the late journalist’s mentoring qualities and professionalism in the field.

“So many people in the audience felt that they knew and adored her,” Just said. “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.”

According to The Atlantic, Ifill took leave from PBS from early April to mid-May this year to address ongoing health issues, which she kept private. She took a leave of absence again last week before Election Day.

The celebrated journalist began her career as a newspaper reporter, writing for big-time news publications like the Boston Herald, The Washington Post and The New York Times. She later switched gears and stepped into the world of broadcast journalism, signing on to NBC News and eventually PBS.

Ifill served as co-anchor on PBS NewsHour and as a moderator on Washington Week, one of the longest-running prime-time news programs on TV, The Atlantic reports. She and co-anchor Judy Woodruff became the first all-female team to host the nightly news show back in 2013.

In an interview with The New York Times that same year, Ifill discussed the significance of her role as Black female journalist on television and how it promoted diversity in the news media.

“When I was a little girl watching programs like this – because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were – I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color,” she told the newspaper. “I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy [Woodruff] sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal – that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.”

Ifill went on to moderate two vice-presidential debates, including the 2008 debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. She also penned a book in 2009 following President Obama’s election, titled “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

In August 2016, Ifill was named as the recipient of the John Chancellor Award for excellence in journalism, according to The Atlantic. She was scheduled to receive the award in New York later this week.

Tributes poured in Tuesday as users took to social media to offer kind words of remembrance for the award-winning political reporter.

Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, released a statement on Ifill’s untimely death:

“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. Her contributions to thoughtful reporting and civic discourse simply cannot be overstated. She often said that her job was to bring light rather than heat to issues of importance to our society.”

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