Gwen Ifill, trailblazer for journalists of color, dies at age 61

By Monique Jones

The Birmingham Times

In this Nov. 5, 2015 file photo, "NewsHour" co-anchor Gwen Ifill attends The Women's Media Center 2015 Women's Media Awards in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
In this Nov. 5, 2015  file photo, “NewsHour” co-anchor Gwen Ifill attends The Women’s Media Center 2015 Women’s Media Awards in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

Gwen Ifill, a trailblazer for African-American journalists, has died after a battle with cancer. She was 61.

Ifill was named the host of Washington Week in Review in 1999 and later became co-host of PBS’ NewsHour in 2013. Together with Judy Woodruff, the two became NewsHour’s first all-female anchoring team.

“When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color,” she told The New York Times in August of 2013. “I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal–that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.”

Before switching to broadcast journalism, Ifill worked various newspapers including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Aside from her broadcast career with PBS, she also worked for NBC News and moderated two vice presidential debates–the 2004 debate between John Edwards and Dick Cheney, and the 2008 debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

Earlier this year, Ifill took a leave from broadcast journalism due to undisclosed health reasons. Most recently, Ifill took leave during the presidential election.  At the time of her death Monday, Ifill was in hospice care.

NewsHour executive producer Sara Just called Ifill “a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change.”

NPR, The New York Times and NBC News contributed to this article.