Last November, America lost one of its most formidable and well-respected journalists, Gwen Ifill. Here, three women whose lives she touched reflect on her outstanding legacy.
MICHEL MARTIN, weekend host of NPR's All Things Considered
met Gwen when we both covered the Maryland State Legislature in the mid-1980's; she was working for the The Baltimore Evening Sun and I was working for The Washington Post.
Because ESSENCE is about Black women speaking truth to and about Black women, I think it's important to speak the truth about Gwen: She knew that she was a role model for reasons that she controlled, such as her deep reporting and outstanding work ethic, and reasons she didn't, such as being a dark-skinned, not-skinny woman in a country and a profession that famously values none of those things.
Yet she made the most of it. She was ambitious. She was realistic about her obstacles without playing the victim. So many of us think we have to be perfect. She satisfied her own idea of who she was supposed to be and was not just admired, she was beloved. There is no one like her. And there are truly no words to tell you how much she will be missed.
JOY-ANN REID, host of MSNBC's AM Joy
I finally got the chance to meet Gwen Ifill in the spring of 2015, while covering the fiftieth anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama. I ran up to her on the street, threw my arms around her and babbled on about how much she meant to me. She very kindly said she'd seen and liked my work, too (I could have fallen on the ground) and took a selfie with me.
It's a picture I treasure today. Gwen—in the totality of her career, in just being on that screen in my living room and speaking magic and truth and honor and brilliance to the world—taught me.
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She taught me when I was a young news junkie and TV viewer and then a working journalist that a Black woman with dark skin and short hair—who looked like me—could rise to the pinnacle of journalistic success; could moderate a vice-presidential debate; could host an august program on PBS; could, in short, do anything in the world. Losing her is beyond a tragedy. I remain her ardent fan.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, journalist and professor at Wake Forest University
When First Lady Michelle Obama memorialized Dr. Maya Angelou, she told a story about when she met the icon. She recalled, "I don't remember her exact words. I do remember exactly how she made me feel…. And I remember thinking to myself, Maya Angelou knows who I am, and she's rooting for me. So now I'm good. I can do this."
Those words perfectly capture my first encounter with Gwen Ifill, which was at a journalism conference. As I was passing by, she called out to me, congratulated me on my MSNBC show and told me about a specific segment she liked. I thought, Gwen Ifill knows who I am and now I can do this.
After taping an episode, I would drop her a note and ask if she liked it. She would always respond with a helpful critique or sisterly cheer. Gwen was a professional of impeccable integrity, unmatched genius and deep personal kindness. The world is harsher and dimmer and more difficult without her. I honestly can't imagine how we are going to navigate the next four years without her. My grief is boundless.
This story originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of ESSENCE Magazine.