An award winner, a history maker, Gwen Ifill was an icon to many and her life was one of tremendous impact. She was a newscaster, a best-selling author, and an award-winning journalist. She also had the privilege on a couple of occasions to handle the moderation of one of the most important debates in the American political cycle – the Vice-Presidential debates of 2004 and 2008. We will discuss her life, her partner, and the cause of her death below, read on.
Gwen Ifill’s Profile & Life
Born on September 29, 1955, in Queens, New York City, Gwen was the fifth child amongst six children. Her father was Urcille Ifill, Sr. who was an African Methodist Episcopal minister while her mother was named Eleanor Ifill. Her mom hailed from Barbados and her dad is a Panamanian of Barbadian descent. Her full name is Gwendolyn L. Ifill.
Ifill spent a lot of time on the road as a result of her father’s ministry, the family moved a lot living in Massachusetts and Buffalo amongst others. She attended a women’s college in Boston – Simmons College and she graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications. Her sojourn into the world of journalism began from being an intern.
The Boston Herald-American was where Ifill went to work as a reporter with her focus being on politics. The Baltimore Evening Sun was also another outlet that she worked at for a while. Ifill switched to television reporting when she linked up with NBC News in 1994 after she had spells with big publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Gwen was the congressional correspondent for NBC and appeared on several political talk shows – Meet the Press was one such show. When in 1999 PBS hired Ifill, she was asked to work on two separate shows, Washington Week and NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. She was a senior correspondent and occasionally a news anchor for NewsHour and a managing editor and moderator at the Washington Week
Gwen Ifill moderated the 2004 vice-presidential debate between the Democratic candidate, Senator John Edwards, and Republican Vice President Dick Cheney on October 5, 2004. This made her the first black woman to moderate a Vice-Presidential debate. Four years later in 2008, Ifill was tasked to carry out the same mandate again, this time in a debate between Republican governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, and Democratic U.S. Senator from Delaware Joe Biden.
In the build-up to the debate, her objectivity was brought into question because of the release of her book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. The book was set to be released on Inauguration Day of 2009. Some said the book would provide a conflict of interest but as it turned out, Ifill went through with the debate and received praise for her performance. When in August 2013 Ifill and Judy Woodruff became co-anchors of NewsHour, they became the first women to moderate a Democratic presidential debate between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton in February 2016. Ifill served on the boards of several organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists.
To better prove how much she is worth in her chosen field, Ifill has won a host of awards throughout her lifetime. She won a Peabody Award in 2008 and the next year, Harvard University honored her with the First Amendment Award by Ford Hall Forum. The National Association of Black Journalists inducted Gwen Ifill into her Hall of Fame in 2012. Amongst a host of other awards and recognition, she received more than 20 Honorary Doctorates from Universities around the globe.
Anyone who has seen Gwen would attest to the fact that she never lacked charisma or a radiant smile. However, with all the success and recognition that Gwen got in her lifetime, she never got around to the idea of marriage. She never married and had no children. Not many are privy to her reason for choosing to remain unmarried in a world where marriage has been revered above a lot of things, but she sure lived an exemplary life.
Death and Cause of Death
Gwen Ifill died after a protracted battle with breast and endometrial cancer on the 14th of November, 2016. She was scheduled to be awarded the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism on November 16, two days after death at the age of 61. Amongst many to extend condolences to the family was the then U.S. President Barack Obama. The First Lady Michelle Obama was at her funeral at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
A year after her passing, Simmons College announced the launching of a school the following year, named in her honor as the Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities. In all of American history, Gwen Ifill has been honored as the most successful African American female news correspondent who ever lived.