I thought my day was at its low point. After all, I was in a dentist chair, my face felt totally frozen, and the visit was not slated to be a short one. The drilling was done and CNN above my head was on. And then the Breaking News alert was flashed.
I could not believe what was being reported. Gwen Ifill had died at the age of 61 from endometrial cancer.
She was not just another reporter or journalist I turned to for news. She was more than a graceful and bright interviewer who added context to the headlines. What made Ifill special was her presence on television, that even in bad times, made us aware there was a way to think it through and make sense out of what had happened.
America needs ‘stabilizers’ such as she proved to be for decades. In times of confusion over complex Supreme Court cases, or after savage terrorism she had the ability to pry into the mix of facts and report so a deeper and more seasoned view could be had. She had a keen sense for getting to the center of the story with her interviews. And through it all I just knew that she would be a pure delight off camera.
I have always fancied the perfect dinner party and once the guests have all left there are always one or two that lingers for another cup of coffee and a more comfortable chair for a longer talk. Gwen Ifill would have been one of those who I would want to stick around, shoes kicked aside, feet curled in chair. That is how she always came across the camera to me.
I first came to know Gwen Ifill from reading The New York Times where she covered politics and campaigns. She was notable for her access to people and her ability to see around the corners of a news story and offer insight into what might be coming next. That is a mark of a great reporter.
I started watching Washington Week In Review every Friday when I was a teenager. During those years I was fascinated by Paul Duke for the reason he was substantive but always serene and laid back. People who commanded attention with such a calm demeanor appealed to me when it came to news. In 1999 when Ifill took over as host I just knew there was something smart and steady about this reporter. With her hosting she became one of the first African American women to preside over a major national political show. Her years at NewsHour made that weekday show a must see.
There is no end to the praise I have given her over the past ten years on this blog. In March 2016 I wrote the following.
I want to do a well deserved shout-out this evening to one of America’s top and brightest broadcasters. While watching NewsHour on PBS (the Supreme Court case in particular) I was struck yet again by the ability of Gwen Ifill to so illuminate the world and the issues of our time. I simply love her. A few years back when there was an opening for the host on “Meet The Press” I had hoped she would land the position. But to not have her probing questions and reporting skills nightly would have meant one of our most cerebral journalists would have had reduced air time. Her work on PBS allows us to better understand the facts of the story, and the dynamics behind the headlines. She is a solid and substantive reporter and anchor.
Friday nights will not be the same without her smile and grace. Though sad, are we not glad to have had the chance for her to visit our homes so often?
Peace and Godspeed, Gwen. And thanks.