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Ode to PBS's Gwen Ifill

Ode to PBS's Gwen Ifill

From humble beginnings as the daughter of Caribbean immigrant parents and a graduate of Springfield High School, Gwen Ifill soared to the top of her profession as a political journalist, moderating political debates and hosting "Washington Week in Review" on PBS - the first black woman to host a national weekly news program.

One way to memorialize Ifill: watch a video of her first night as moderator of "Washington Week". She started her journalism career as a print reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun and the Boston Herald American.

In 2013, Ifill was named co-host of the PBS NewsHour. They were the first all-female anchor team on network nightly news. Her ease and mastery of the format made it possible for the news executives who did the hiring to imagine journalists of color in roles they had never been seen in before.

Regarded as one of the most prominent African American journalists in the country she Ifill began her news career in the 1970s during a time when there were very few African American and female journalists.

Ifill died after a battle with cancer.

As a writer, I have taken inspiration from her, and we will all miss watching this classy lady with her attractive voice in the coming days and months.

She received more than 20 honorary degrees from universities and was presented with the Fourth Estate Award from the National Press Club in 2015. In April, she had to take a leave of absence from the "NewsHour", for what were described as "ongoing health issues".

"She was evenhanded yet tenacious", Suarez said.

"It still hurts", said WUSA9 anchor Andrea Roane, who knew Ifill in passing.

"And that's the flawless example of, once you get in the door, then you have to perform", she said. So as a tribute to Gwen I will work harder at the job we both love and I'll try harder to fuel toward what she did with such ease, which is spread love and joy and delight.

Ifill did not let her colleagues' wariness slow her down.

Her parents sound a lot like mine, by her accounts, always reminding their children to avoid bitterness or "a chip on your shoulder".

She was also credited with raising an issue that more conventional moderators might not have: the rate of AIDS deaths among Black women in America. "I hung onto every word", Lemon said. As a college-educated black woman, she was an anomaly, and one day she arrived at work to find a note that read "Nigger, go home".

But her biggest honor, she often said, was to be emcee at the dedication of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., memorial on the Washington Mall. The discussion includes then-New York Times reporter Richard Berke, then-CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger, Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times and Michael Duffy of Time magazine.

For all her bravado and consummate professionalism on the beat and in the studios, it wasn't until she arrived behind the desks at PBS that she became a household name and broadcaster.