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What Gwen Ifill taught us

November 18, 2016 at 6:25 PM EDT
In honor of our beloved co-anchor Gwen Ifill, who passed away on Monday, members of the NewsHour family -- past and present -- remember the wisdom she shared.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, with that, before we go tonight, we wanted to let members of our own “NewsHour” family, past and present, on camera and behind the camera, pay tribute to Gwen. As you know, she passed away earlier this week.

She’ll be remembered at services this weekend here in Washington.

Personally, I’m the luckiest person I know because I had the privilege of being Gwen Ifill’s friend and her sidekick at work.

She was like a magnet. People just wanted to be close to her because she instinctively cared about how they were doing.

We joked. We were like an old married couple. We weren’t afraid to say the really important stuff to each other’s faces, like, you have got salad in your teeth, or, where did you find those fabulous earrings?

As a work partner, she was the ultimate, holding me and everyone else here at the “NewsHour” to the highest standards. Her mantra was, “Assume nothing.”

“How do you know?” I can hear her asking.

Boy, do we miss her. There is an empty place in our hearts. But we will carry on, as Gwen would want, with a commitment to being thorough, being fair and to shedding light, rather than heat, on everything we cover.

TRAVIS DAUB: What I learned from Gwen as a journalist is to never accept the easy answer. There is often another layer to a problem. There is often another motivation driving someone behind an issue. And it’s our job to find out what that is.

JENNY MARDER: For every story, you need to think about, what is the question that’s important to ask and why does it matter?

JOSHUA BARAJAS: No matter how complicated and how fraught the conversations I have with people, Gwen taught me how to listen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There is a professional ladder in this business, but, as a journalist of color, what she impressed upon me, as a friend and a mentor, is that it’s not just enough to climb that ladder. It’s about making sure that you pull someone else up, and then they pull someone else up along the way.

JASMINE WRIGHT: It’s no longer an exception to see a black woman who looks just like me anchoring the nightly news, reporting on foreign policy and politics, but that it’s the norm.

AMANDA GOMEZ: Race and gender doesn’t define my reporting. It adds to it. It strengthens it.

KAMARIA ROBERTS: Determined and focused, despite what naysayers may have to say about you and your work.

AISHA TURNER: Believe in wonder. She taught me to be bold. She taught me that black women are magical.

JIM LEHRER: We heard that there was an opportunity for her to come possibly to PBS to do “Washington Week,” but even possibly be a correspondent on the “NewsHour.”

Linda Winslow, who was then the executive producer of the “NewsHour,” and I had dinner with Gwen, and we talked about her coming aboard as a correspondent. And almost right there, she accepted.

And to our new senior correspondent, Gwen Ifill, welcome, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: And there she was, one of us.

She was a superb professional, somebody who understood the need to be civil, understand the need to be honest, the need to do your homework, and the need to be tough when required, to be soft when required, and more importantly, always to be yourself, which Gwen always was.

DAR SILVER: Gwen Ifill was a class act. Everybody who spent any time with her, both professionally and outside the studio, was aware of the fact that she was a consummate professional.

PAM KIRKLAND: Gwen taught me to keep digging, that, even when I thought all the questions had been answered in a story, that there were always more questions to ask.

LEAH NAGY: To always ask, so what? How does the story affect people across the country? Why should they care?

JOE BUCKINGHAM: Was to always remember the importance of words, the right words at the right time.

MARGARET WARNER: We shared a journalist’s passion for explaining to our audience how the world works, but with honesty and care, not cynicism.

Most precious of all was her wise counsel, reminding me in tough times to rely on family, friends and faith. They were the greatest source of Gwen’s gusto and joy.

JOHN YANG: Gwen taught me, in the more than 30 years we knew each other, the value and the power of friendship.

DAN COONEY: What did I learn from Gwen? She reinforced in me the difference a smile can make in someone’s day.

MIKE MELIA: Kindness and curiosity are the best tools that we have to love and to live.

JIM SCHNEIDER: Live with integrity and grace all the time.

LINDA WINSLOW: When her strong, compassionate heart stopped beating on Monday, those of us who knew and loved her, her friends and her colleagues and the audience as well, knew that our own hearts had taken a direct hit.

She was our inspiration. She was the person who told us that the work we did really mattered. She was a stickler for accuracy, and she was also a fun-loving, life-affirming, deeply religious friend. And I’m going to miss her very much.

ALEXIS COX: Gwen taught me that, as a woman in a challenging profession, I have a responsibility to help other women succeed. She also taught me to never underestimate the power of a great statement necklace.

MEREDITH GARRETSON: That leopard print is business casual.

DAN SAGALYN: She always said, “I like your haircut,” whenever I got a haircut, and that hair was really important.

CHARLIE IDE: I learned a lot from Gwen professionally and personally, but I also learned how to let off some steam. And the best way to do it is to give a good uppercut to Bozo.

GLYNDA BATES: Gwen taught me never to call her Gwennie.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Many years ago, at the dawn of television, some radio comedian said, it’s easy to make it on TV. All you have to do is fake sincerity.

Gwen Ifill never faked anything. She was always entirely herself, bold, assertive, confident, professional, and funny.

GWEN IFILL: Do you have an opening for a backup singer?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, Musician: Come on. I think you should…


GWEN IFILL: I’m just saying I could do it.

ROBERT MACNEIL: She made her career, as they used to say in the commercial, the old-fashioned way. She earned it on a road made far tougher by her being black.

GWEN IFILL: A footnote to this story.

ROBERT MACNEIL: I feel that the outpouring of sympathy for her too-young death shows how vitally she connected with the audience.

But it may also show, in this time politically, which feels like a world turned upside down, that she provides an emotional outlet for people who prize the diversity of American society and, in her career, a symbol of the values they want to hold on to.

ANNE DAVENPORT: What Gwen taught me was grit, grace and gratitude, what I call the three G’s.

We were doing her last stand-up at the African American Museum, and she basically motored through it, and she did what I call, she chose happy.

GWEN IFILL: This is an amazing place, chockful of the expected and the unexpected.

ANNE DAVENPORT: She always saw the bright spot, even when she wasn’t feeling well towards the end.

GWEN IFILL: I love it.

ANNE DAVENPORT: And also a kind of fun lesson, on the road, whether it was the New Hampshire primary or something else, bring red wine and Twizzlers.

MARGE HUBBARD: Gwen taught me, put hot sauce on my eggs.

EMILY CARPEAUX: Gwen taught me to pave my own way.

RICHARD COOLIDGE: To understand people, it’s not just having empathy that’s enough, but it’s really to put yourself inside their situation, to understand what they were going through.

LES CRYSTAL: The sweet spot for Gwen was covering politics. And we know it was very difficult for her giving that up as she battled her illness in the last weeks.

We will also remember Gwen for that beautiful wide smile, along with her devotion to high standards of journalism, made her a very special colleague and friend.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Part of what Gwen taught me — and this was from watching her at the 2004 vice presidential debate that she moderated with Cheney and Edwards — and she raised the question of the startling high rate of HIV among black women in America.

GWEN IFILL: What should the government’s role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Neither of them had any idea what she was talking about.

And what Gwen taught me in that moment was that bringing uncomfortable truths and facts to people in power is what a journalist is supposed to do.

P.J. TOBIA: Gwen taught me that you can always find some kind of diversity, a woman or a person of color, to speak on almost any issue, if you just make enough phone calls.

NSIKAN AKPAN: Gwen taught me that you shouldn’t only tell a story with a critical eye; you should want your audience to care.

JAY NEVEL: There could be a special relationship between an anchor, reporter and her crew. And whether it was here at WETA studios or whether we were on the road doing the “Washington Week” show or at the conventions, she took care of us, and we took care of her.

SARA JUST: Gwen was a huge fan of the show “Hamilton.” And there’s a line from “Hamilton” that I can’t stop thinking about in the days since her death. It says, “Legacy, what is a legacy? It is planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

There’s a huge, gaping hole in our newsroom and in the industry of journalism in general without Gwen. She was one of a kind. But she also planted a lot of seeds. She was a mentor, a guide, a friend to a whole slew of younger journalists. She made time in her busy schedule to offer advice, be a sounding board, a cheerleader, an ally.

ELIZABETH SUMMERS: Gwen taught me to trust myself.

RHANA NATOUR: How to be graceful under pressure.

JUSTIN SCUILETTI: Gwen taught me not only to strive to be good at your job, but also to have fun with it.

BILL BARBER: She is not going to be replaced. She will be in our hearts forever.

JEFFREY BROWN: For years, Gwen and I had lunch or dinner nearly every week, a chance to get out of the office and talk.

At a certain point, we realized we had developed a pattern. One of us would start with some problem or minor grievance, something at work or too much work or something like that. The other would listen, go along with it a bit, and point out how petty the complaint was, and get us to where we always ended up in those conversations: how lucky we are to do what we do.

We took turns doing that for each other. I know she did it for me. It’s my turn here, even in great sadness, to say how lucky I am to have known and worked with my friend Gwen Ifill.

JOE CAMP: I always had this sort of Eddie Haskell kind of thing with Gwen. I would say, “Good evening, Ms. Ifill,” and, “Good night, Ms. Ifill.”

And I’m not going to say, goodbye, Ms. Ifill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Gwen lives on through everyone you just heard and so many more.

And we have one more tribute to Gwen online. Our beloved friend and colleague was such a force that a full moon, the supermoon, drew closer to Earth on her last day of life.

Please, tonight, tune in for a special “Washington Week.” It’s later on this evening. Gwen’s dear friend Michele Norris leads a panel of those who knew Gwen well.