Gwen Ifill was a mentor to many, both those she touched directly and the millions she reached on TV.
Gwen, who died a year ago today, often remarked that as a young woman she was inspired by Melba Tolliver, the first black person to ever anchor a network news program.
In 1967, during a broadcast news network strike, Tolliver made history when she anchored ABC’s “News with The Woman’s Touch.”
“She left a very big impression upon me because I didn’t want to be in television,” Gwen explained in a 2014 interview, “but here was a black woman asking the questions. I liked that. I could see that. And to this day, when people approach me and tell me that they’re glad to see me on television because they have daughters who see me and they see that same thing, that makes my day.”
It turns out the feeling of inspiration was mutual — and they also shared something more personal than just being pioneers.
“This notion of being a role model works both ways,” Tolliver said. “Gwen was a role model for me even though I was older [and] entered the news business before she did, yet I was looking to her for inspiration still, looking to her on how to be a steady person.”
Gwen and Tolliver never met, but news of her death a year ago still came as a shock. “ I think Gwen was the kind of person I took for granted that would always be there. Even at her young age, she was an institution,” Tolliver said. “It was as though she would always be around.”
Tolliver told the NewsHour that Gwen’s death also resonated because she, too, had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She finished treatment nearly two years ago.
“I really miss her,” Tolliver said of Gwen. “It sounds strange to miss someone you didn’t know, but I do.”