I was so saddened to hear of the passing of Gwen Ifill, an amazing journalist, PBS news anchor, personal friend, and role model and mentor to many.
Throughout her career, Gwen broke both gender and race barriers and she also did what I admire most about her success — she was vigilant about reducing the barriers for the women following her. She never forgot her own struggles to be hired, to be respected and acknowledged, to be the first African-American woman in a position, and she fought for equal opportunities and access for others her entire life.
A personal memory that I hold close today is the first lunch we shared after I had been named the first woman president of PBS. Gwen was hosting "Washington Week in Review," a program that she passionately defended and kept vital and relevant always. We talked about our ‘first’ stories and the challenges that come with that, and she told me that what she cared about most in life was fairness. That word stayed with me from that early lunch forward as I watched her commitment to fairness inform her work as a journalist — always going beyond the obvious or even the expected to be clear, factual and fair.
We need more of that kind of reporting and it was reassuring to know that we could turn to Gwen Ifill for that and so much more.
In a video interview Ifill recorded for the AOL "Makers" series she talked about growing up with a father who she called an “accidental feminist” because he told his daughters they could be whatever they wanted to be. Gwen wanted every girl to believe that, and over the years, I have heard from so many young women who saw this actualized in Gwen’s career. When she anchored the national debates and when she and Judy Woodruff became the first all-women anchor team in television, every young woman had more reason to believe in her own aspirations and possibilities.
In 2015, it was my privilege to celebrate Gwen and her co-anchor, Judy Woodruff, with the Women’s Media Center’s Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement award. That evening I said, “Through their choices of the stories that they report, and the ways that they lead as women, and their contributions to the media organizations and networks they have worked for, they have contributed to making the world a more inclusive place…increasing our understanding of the world and our role in it.”
Gwen made a difference in the world — not only as a groundbreaking, smart and trusted journalist, but also as a caring, deeply thoughtful and very brave woman. It doesn’t seem fair that we have lost her at this time when her commitment to truth and to facts and to fairness is needed more than ever.