Thou­sands gather to mourn, cel­e­brate, jour­nal­ist Gwen Ifill

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Er­rin Haines Whack

WASH­ING­TON>> Thou­sands of mourn­ers — in­clud­ing first lady Michelle Obama — re­mem­bered and cel­e­brated vet­eran Wash­ing­ton jour­nal­ist Gwen Ifill on Satur­day, re­call­ing her as a stan­dard bearer, cher­ished friend, de­voted men­tor and woman of abid­ing faith.

Ifill died Mon­day at 61 af­ter a year­long bat­tle with can­cer. Mrs. Obama did not speak at the ser­vice, but sev­eral jour­nal­ists and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures of­fered re­flec­tions.

“We didn’t look like other an­chor pairs — and we loved that,” said Judy Woodruff, half of the his­tory-mak­ing team that be­came the first fe­male co-an­chors of a ma­jor news broad­cast in 2013. The two co-hosted PBS’ “NewsHour.” Woodruff added that Ifill is needed “more than ever.”

“Never have we faced tougher chal­lenges, and no one would’ve risen to them bet­ter,” she added. Ifill, she added, will “be our com­pass.”

For­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder read a let­ter from Pres­i­dent Obama, who was in Peru. Holder likened Ifill to “a comet” and chal­lenged the col­leagues she leaves be­hind to honor her legacy with their work by hold­ing those in power ac­count­able.

“Will you cower? Will you nor­mal­ize that which is any­thing but?” Holder asked in a veiled ref­er­ence to the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of Don­ald Trump.

The ser­vice, held at the his­toric Metropoli­tan A.M.E. Church — where Ifill was a long­time mem­ber — was also a grand dis­play of her faith and roots as the daugh­ter of Caribbean im­mi­grants whose fa­ther was a leader of the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church. Her pas­tor of many years, Bishop James L. Davis, re­called Ifill as “bril­liance cloaked in hu­mil­ity.”

A for­mer re­porter for The New York Times and The Wash­ing­ton Post, Ifill tran­si­tioned to tele­vi­sion in the 1990s, cov­er­ing pol­i­tics and Congress for NBC News. She moved to PBS in 1999 as host of “Wash­ing­ton Week” and also worked for “NewsHour.” She mod­er­ated vice pres­i­den­tial de­bates in 2004 and 2008.

John Dick­er­son, host of CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” who joined Ifill as a reg­u­lar pan­elist on “Wash­ing­ton Week,” said Ifill “wore her grace like a gar­ment,” but added her in­fec­tious laugh came with a with­er­ing scowl.

“I’m not go­ing to say it in church, but there’s a very spe­cific word for what Gwen could de­tect,” Dick­er­son said.

The pews were filled with jour­nal­ists, politi­cians, her mentees, fam­ily and friends, in­clud­ing civil rights at­tor­ney Ver­non Jor­dan, in­terim Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair Donna Brazile, White House se­nior ad­viser Va­lerie Jar­rett, vet­eran jour­nal­ist Char­layne Hunter Gault, New York Times colum­nist David Brooks, for­mer CNN an­chor Bernard Shaw, Don­ald Trump sur­ro­gate Omarosa Mani­gault, and NAACP Le­gal De­fense Fund Pres­i­dent Sher­ri­lynn Ifill, the jour­nal­ist’s younger cousin.

“She was the shining star in our fam­ily,” Sher­ri­lynn Ifill said of Gwen. “She was the most Amer­i­can of suc­cess sto­ries. Her life and her work made this coun­try bet­ter. She did the hard work for us for so long ... It’s time to take her ex­am­ple and do what she did.”

Ifill took a leave from “NewsHour” last spring for health rea­sons, but kept the de­tails of her ill­ness pri­vate.

PHO­TOS BY SAIT SERKAN GURBUZ—THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

At­ten­dees ar­rive at Metropoli­tan A.M.E. Church for the memo­rial ser­vice for jour­nal­ist Gwen Ifill in Wash­ing­ton.

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