Veteran Journalist and Former Boston Herald Staffer Gwen Ifill Has Died

Ifill spent time in her childhood around Massachusetts and graduated from Simmons College in 1977.

Gwen Ifill, co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour”, and host of PBS’ “Washington Week” died this afternoon in Washington after a long battle with cancer. She was 61 years old.

After being diagnosed with cancer in late 2015 or early 2016, Ifill took a leave from her nightly show, returning in May. About a week ago, she took another leave, taking her away from last Tuesday’s election night coverage. She was scheduled to receive the prestigious John Chancellor Award at Columbia University on Wednesday.

“She was a journalist’s journalist and set an example for all around her,” said Sara Just, PBS NewsHour executive producer, in a statement . “So many people in the audience felt that they knew and adored her. She had a tremendous combination of warmth and authority. She was stopped on the street routinely by people who just wanted to give her a hug and considered her a friend after years of seeing her on TV. We will forever miss her terribly.”

Ifill was born in New York, but spent her childhood living in the New England area. She lived in a range of Massachusetts church parsonages, since her father was a pastor.

She later attended Simmons College, where she majored in communications. During her college career, she was an intern at the the Boston Herald.

“They didn’t know what a college-educated black woman was,” Ifill once told the Washington Post. “They didn’t know how to treat me.”

During her internship, a Herald staff member left a racist note in the photo lab reading, “N—r go home.” The paper’s editors offered her a job after this incident because of how deeply apologetic they were. She graduated from Simmons in 1977, and started working for the Herald. She later returned to Simmons in 2009 to give the college’s commencement address.

Ifill left the Herald’s staff in 1984 for the Washington Post, and later on worked for the New York Times and NBC. In 1999, she became the moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week In Review”, and in 2013, became the co-host of NewsHour. She and her co-host, Judy Woodruff, were the first women to co-host a nightly news broadcast.

She was also well-known for her moderation of debates. In 2004, she moderated the vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, and later took on moderation duties for the 2008 vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Most recently, she moderated a Democratic primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. During her moderation of the 2004 vice-presidential debate, she is famous for saying, “Well, that’s all you’ve got” when Dick Cheney asked for more time to answer a question.

Tributes are pouring in from other members of the media regarding Ifill’s passing. Lester Holt, the NBC anchor who himself hosted a presidential debate this year, tweeted,“Very sad to learn we have lost Gwen Ifill. Gwen represented the best of broadcast journalism. Our hearts are broken.”


Jenna Perlman Jenna Perlman, Editorial Intern at Boston Magazine jperlman@bostonmagazine.com