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PBS anchor with Barbadian roots dies at 61


Reuters/NB

PBS anchor with Barbadian roots dies at 61

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WASHINGTON – United States journalist Gwen Ifill, who co-anchored  The PBS NewsHour, wrote a best-seller about President Barack Obama and moderated two vice presidential election debates, died on Monday, the public broadcaster said. She was 61.

Ifill had Barbadian roots. She was the daughter of the late Eleanor Ifill (née Husbands) of St Peter and Panama-born Dr Urcille Ifill, who was also of Barbadian parentage

She died surrounded by family and friends after several months of treatment for cancer, PBS said in a statement. The network said on Nov. 2 that she would be off the air as she dealt with unspecified health problems.

“Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change,” said Sara Just, PBS NewsHour executive producer.

She called Ifill “a journalist’s journalist” who combined warmth and authority so well that people on the street who had seen her on television would hug her.

Ifill was moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, a prime-time news programme, and co-anchor and managing editor for The PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff.

Ifill joined the programmes in 1999 from NBC News, where she was chief congressional and political correspondent, according to a biography on the NewsHour website.

She also had been White House correspondent for the New York Times and a reporter for the Washington Post, Baltimore Evening Sun and the Boston Herald American.

On the “NewsHour website, Ifill said that “public broadcasting provides the best of both worlds – combining the depth of newspapering with the immediate impact of broadcast television.”

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Ifill was the best-selling author of 2009’s The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama and moderated the vice presidential debates during the 2004 and 2008 national elections.

She visited Barbados in December 2009 for a book signing organised by the now defunct Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA).

(Above, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy (centre) presenting author Gwen Ifill with a book on historic houses of Barbados after welcoming her to the island. At left is BTA deputy chairman Austin Husbands, a first cousin of Ifill.)

The event  was attended by her Barbadian cousins – Austin Husbands,  then deputy BTA chairman, Harriette Hinds and Joan Finch – as well as chargé d’affaires of the United States Embassy, Dr Brent Hardt, and Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, among other guests.

Ifill praised the island’s heritage and the “sense of pride, self and power” among black people.

She also spoke at length about the issue of race in the United States and the need for more conversation about the subject. President Barack Obama represented the leading edge of the change being experienced there, she added.

(Below, Ifill (second from right) with her Barbadian cousins (from left) Joan Finch, Austin Husbands and Harriette Hinds at her book-signing at the Savannah Hotel.)

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Ifill covered seven presidential campaigns and won the George Foster Peabody Award in 2008 for bringing “Washington Week” to live audiences around the country.

A native of New York and a graduate of Boston’s Simmons College, Ifill received more than 20 honorary doctorates. She was included in Ebony Magazine’s list of 150 Most Influential African Americans.

In a bipartisan reaction, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Obama, a Democrat, expressed sorrow about Ifill’s death. On Twitter, Ryan called her “an incredibly talented and respected journalist.”

“I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting, even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews,” Obama said at a White House news conference. (Reuters/NB)

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