I watched the PBS News Hour on Monday night, where a deeply grief-stricken Judy Woodruff and Hari Sreenivasan announced the death of their longtime colleague and executive editor of the program, Gwen Ifill. Ifill died of cancer on Monday at the age of 61.
The News Hour devoted almost all of its hour-long coverage to Ifill, who was celebrated for her courage, her devotion to the profession of journalism, her decency, her warmth, her incisive questioning of politicians on both sides of the aisle, her magnetic, embracing smile. Earlier in the day, President Obama spoke eloquently of Ifill, called her a friend of his and Michelle’s as well as a journalist of the highest order. During the program a number of Ifill’s colleagues, from print media and television, spoke. Charlayne Hunter Gault broke down in tears. Amy Walter and Pete Williams spoke with voices that were ragged with grief. David Brooks has a deeply felt tribute to Ifill in Tuesday’s New York Times. These are professional journalists, people trained to control their emotion in the face of terrible tragedies like presidential assassination and terror attacks like 9/11. Their grief at the loss of a beloved and valued colleague was out there and visible to all.
Friend and regular reader Jackie email me to say how unexpectedly and deeply saddened she is. With Jackie’s permission, I post her comment here:
“I just wanted to share a strange reaction I had to the news of Gwen Ifil’s death yesterday. For some reason, I am grieving- I guess I admired her both for her candor and her even temperament. Because of her, I enjoyed the news each night instead of dreading it. I feel her loss keenly, especially since she was so young. I am also mourning for the little girls who looked up to her and could envision accomplishing their dreams.”
I have always admired Gwen Ifill. Early in her career, working in print media in Boston, an older white male colleague left a “nigger go home” note on her desk. Ifill doubled down, and never went home except at night, after work, on her own terms.
One of the panel members on the PBS NewsHour was Ifill’s pastor. She was an AME Church member; her father an AME Church minister and ranking official in the denomination. Pastor Lamar spoke of Ifill’s deep faith, her regular church attendance, her wonderful singing voice, her lack of airs or self-importance with members of the congregation who have far more ordinary lives, her willingness to serve as a role model for the little girls who would run up after worship to give her a hug.
Images matter. Seeing Gwen Ifill every night on PBS mattered, for a lot of reasons and to a lot of us. I thought about the multi-cultural, multi-racial nature of the group who spoke in memory of Ifill, and of the contrast with the aging white-guy-heavy nature of the upcoming Trump administration.
I am filled with sadness at what we have lost.