PHOTO BY BOB DAEMMRICH/ALAMY.
Gwen Ifill (pictured) was an American journalist, television newscaster, and author. She was born on September 29, 1955.
Ifill was also the author of the best-selling book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Born Gwendolyn L. Ifill in Jamaica, Queens in New York City, she was the fifth of six children of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister (Oliver) Urcille Ifill, Sr.
Mr. Ifill was a Panamanian of Barbadian descent who emigrated to the U.S. from Panama. Gwen’s mother, Eleanor Ifill, was from Barbados. Her father’s ministry required the family to live in several cities in New England and on the Eastern Seaboard where he pastored AME churches.
As a child, she lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts church parsonages and in federally subsidized housing in Buffalo and New York City. Ifill graduated from Springfield Central High School Springfield, Massachusetts (then Classical High School) in 1973. She graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Simmons College, a women’s college in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ifill went on to work for the Baltimore Evening Sun from 1981 to 1984 and for The Washington Post from 1984 to 1991. She left the Post after being told she was not ready to cover Capitol Hill. However, Ifill was hired by The New York Times. There, she covered the White House from 1991 to 1994. Her first job in television was with NBC, where she was the network’s Capitol Hill reporter in 1994.
In October 1999, she became the moderator of the PBS program Washington Week in Review, the first black woman to host a national political talk show on television. She was a senior correspondent for The PBS News Hour. Ifill appeared on various news shows, including Meet the Press, Face the Nation, The Colbert Report, Charlie Rose, Inside Washington, and The Tavis Smiley Show.
In November 2006, she co-hosted Jamestown Live!, an educational webcast commemorating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia.
Ifill served on the boards of the Harvard Institute of Politics, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Museum of Television and Radio, as well as the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists renamed the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, which started in 1991. The accolade’s new name is the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
Also, Ifill moderated the vice-presidential debate between the Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and the Democratic candidate and U.S. Senator from North Carolina, John Edwards. Legendary journalist Howard Kurtz described the consensus that Ifill “acquitted herself well” as moderator. She was the first African-American woman to moderate a vice-presidential debate.
Ifill went on to moderate the vice-presidential debate on October 2, 2008, between the Democratic U.S. Senator from Delaware Joe Biden and the Republican governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Ifill died of breast and endometrial cancer on November 14, 2016, at age 61.
According to CNN, she spent her final days at a Washington, D.C. hospice, surrounded by family and friends.