Missing Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill, the PBS News Hour co-anchor who died far too soon Monday at the age of 61, arrived in the Prince George’s County, Maryland office of the Washington Post when I was the bureau chief.  Our desks faced each other.  She was the newbie, but she already had been working for evening papers in Boston and Baltimore.

I had been sort of a mentor to other younger reporters who filed through the bureau, doing their brief stint in the burbs before moving up to more exalted heights at the newspaper. I’d like to say I mentored Gwen, but clearly she didn’t need one. She was already a pro.

The Post had a six-month probationary period for new reporters, and when her time was up, she was not automatically ushered into the ranks of the fully employed. Instead, her probation was extended for another three months. At the same time, a much less talented white female reporter passed probation, no sweat.  I advocated for Gwen, because she had more than proven herself in my view, but as a black female she faced a rougher road.

I remember visiting her in the Southwest Washington apartment where she first lived, and meeting her father, a minister in Philadelphia. It was small and a bit cramped, as I recall, but a good starter rental for Gwen.

After a couple of years, the Post promoted her to the national staff, and then she left for the New York Times. The Post was not gracious about her leaving, to put it mildly. Michele Norris, who also worked at the Post before moving to network reporting and then to NPR, had a farewell party for Gwen I was privileged to attend. Gwen never expressed any bitterness about her treatment, or about anything for that matter.

When Gwen moved from print to television, first at the networks and then on public television, I was so happy for her and so proud of her.  I didn’t see her much. Occasionally, we would run into each other, at a journalism event or, in 2013, at a Post party to honor Donald Graham as he passed the ownership torch to Jeff Bezos. Once, my wife ran into her at a lighting store, or maybe it was Trader  Joe’s. It was nothing fancy. She was just being a person.

I enjoyed watching Gwen on the PBS News Hour and moderating Washington Week in Review — her intelligence, her depth of knowledge, her warmth and her modesty were always on display.  She was the opposite of self-important. She was a journalist, dedicated to shining light into dark places, and always with elegance and grace.

Thank you, Gwen, for the memories.  The world misses you.




  1. Brenda Pitts on November 16, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Gene, thanks so much for sharing your experience with Gwen. She was such a lovely person. So sorry for your loss!

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