Gwen Ifill, the co-host of PBS NewsHour and one of the most respected and admired journalists in the country, has passed away at the age of 61, PBS announced on Monday.
Ifill—who took a leave of absence in the spring and had been originally scheduled to cover last Tuesday’s election but had to miss it—died from cancer, multiple news outlets reported. The Daily Beast reported that she received the cancer diagnosis less than a year ago.
“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,” said PBS NewsHour executive producer Sara Just, in a statement. “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.”
In addition to hosting the NewsHour, Ifill was the longtime moderator of the PBS program Washington Week; a former reporter for the Boston Herald-American, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and NBC; and the moderator of vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008. She was also the author of the 2009 book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
Here’s how the New York Times described one of the book’s central findings about the 2008 presidential contest and Barack Obama’s election:
Ifill rightly dismisses the notion that America has become a “postracial” country, but acknowledges the insight of Obama’s adviser David Axelrod that “the story of this race is that race didn’t play the decisive role that people thought it would.” Axelrod describes Obama’s race-neutral strategy as quite simply “a function of math”: electing an African-American in a country where African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population required a candidate who appealed to nonblack voters. “As countless new black leaders have discovered, the key to breaking through often lies in just such a crossover—putting whites at ease without alienating blacks,” Ifill writes.
Politico reported that Ifill was set to receive the 2016 John Chancellor Award from Columbia University on Wednesday.
Tributes poured in from former colleagues and fellow journalists who praised Ifill for her skill as a journalist and for her general decency.
Political figures also weighed in from across the ideological spectrum, including interim Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Face the Nation host and Slate Political Gabfest co-host John Dickerson wrote an emailed remembrance of Ifill, with whom he worked on Washington Week, for Slate, part of which is quoted here:
When I was first asked to be on Washington Week I never prepared more for an appearance. I wanted to be worthy of her show where she held up reporting and gave you a chance to talk and where she felt so keenly the duty she had to all the people watching.
If you were on Gwen’s show you became a collector of compliments. People would stop me all across the country to say great things about her. A guy once interrupted me at the gym when I was doing the bench press to tell me how much he loved Gwen.