Last week, Gwen Ifill, veteran journalist who broke gender and race barriers, lost her battle with cancer. The world collectively mourned as media covered her life and legacy in detail. Gwen became the first African American woman to host a nationally televised U.S. public affairs program. She also worked at a myriad of national media outlets, many of which she was the first African American woman at, including the Washington Post, The New York Times, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, The Colbert Report, Charlie Rose and PBS NewsHour, where she finished her career as a co-anchor alongside Judy Woodruff, making them the first (and only) all-female anchor team of a national nightly news program. In addition to a successful, groundbreaking career, Gwen Ifill was also a best-selling author and moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates.
Gwen was a fierce reporter with tough skin, sharp wit and superior intelligence, and while her life and accomplishments are inspirational, I was struck when I realized she paved the way for me – and every woman I have worked with in my career. Gwen Ifill paved the way for all women in the media industry, journalists, producers and pr professionals alike. And being the first is never easy; as Gwen once said, “The first ones through the door often get bruised if not broken. Eventually, with a little political acumen and racial sensitivity and a lot of hard work, a smooth new place can emerge.”
So while I still may bruise when I get a hard no from a producer I’ve spent 3 months pitching, I’ll toast to Gwen and follow her lead by moving forward and working harder. As we close out a year full of bruises as a nation, we can all learn from this amazing woman. Here’s three of my favorite Gwen Ifill quotes, applicable to anyone at any moment, but especially as we look to 2017:
“Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation.”
“Act right all the time, because someone’s always watching.”
“Hope springs eternal, even in politics.”