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Gwen Ifill: An Appreciation

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By Dorothy Gilliam
November 14, 2016

By Dorothy Gilliam

Dorothy Butler Gilliam is a founding member of the Maynard Institute board of directors. She is a pioneering African-American journalist and a retired columnist for the Washington Post.

I was moved to wracking sobs when I learned of Gwen Ifill’s death today.  We interacted on so many occasions – she was my friend, former colleague at The Washington Post, my fellow worshipper at Metropolitan AME Church where she used proceeds from her book to help restore the historic edifice in downtown Washington.  She was a generous person with brains and heart who made an unparalleled impact on the world of journalism for all women but especially for African American women.

A few years ago, I joined in a roast of Gwen at the National Press Club.    I recalled meeting Gwen when she came to The Post in l984.  I shared that as the first African American woman hired as a reporter at the newspaper I had battle scars as well as triumphs from inside and outside the newsroom.  But Gwen was part of the new young generation—working on the national staff, covering presidential politics—Gwen was Baaad!  I joked that she was smart enough to leave the newspaper before her morning paper was delivered by drones and eventually to land in television.  I recalled it was many years later before I learned that Gwen and I had something in common—we were both PK’s—Preacher’s Kids—daughters of ministers in the AME Church.  Our fathers’ ministries often required us to live in different cities—hard times for the kids because that meant new schools, neighborhoods, playmates.  We had to learn survival skills early. I joked that she still shuddered each April when she remembered when ministers like her father learned whether they and their families would have to move to a new city or could remain where they were for another year.  I was flattered that in response to my toast she called me a role model.

Gwen was the consummate professional who played the news straight in all her work.  But occasionally on the PBS Newshour she could give a guest a quick, slightly incredulous look that to me said, “Oh no, you didn’t go there!”  I loved the joy that emanated from Gwen despite the pressures of her work.  I loved Gwen Ifill—one of the most successful female journalist in journalism history.


Dorothy Butler Gilliam is a founding member of the Maynard Institute board of directors. She is a pioneering African-American journalist and a retired columnist for the Washington Post.

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