Sadly, several weeks ago America lost one of her most respected journalists. Gwen Ifill, most widely known as the co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour, died on November 14th after a fierce and brave battle with uterine cancer.
Mrs. Ifill, who once said, “You can be the person who turns toward, not away from, the chance to rise above the fray,” was a true trailblazer in media. As an African-American woman entering political journalism in the 1970s, she often encountered racial and sexual intimidation, but she refused to back down. When she described her challenges to her editors, they would just shrug and tell her to “grin and bear it.”
So that’s just what she did. And the grin came from a genuine place. As a matter of fact, many of her mourners expressed that her glowing smile is what they would miss the most—so warm and welcoming, yet confident and authoritative. In her smile was great tenacity as she bore the brunt of preconceived notions that those who would come after her were spared. Eventually she became the first black woman to host a national political talk show on television. She also became senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour along with Judy Woodruff—making the duo the first all-female anchor team on network nightly news.
Ifill was known for her grace under pressure, her integrity and her unbiased approach to journalism. She gained respect from all sides of the political and media spectrum—since her passing, tributes have come in from John McCain, Don Lemon and Barack Obama.
Despite her immense influence, she didn’t talk much about a being a trailblazer; she just blazed along quietly. To all of you who hope to be the first (fill in the blank), remember this quote from the late Gwen Ifill:
“You can’t spend a lot of time assuming the worst about why people do things. It almost always has nothing to do with you. It has to do with their biases, with their constraints, with their inability to imagine anything more…you stop and think—‘they didn’t give it to me because they couldn’t imagine me in this role—my job is to force them to see me in a different role,’ and then you act on that.”
She undoubtedly accomplished that challenging goal. Mrs. Ifill, we bid you farewell, and good night.