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Acclaimed PBS Journalist Gwen Ifill Dies At 61

In addition to being the moderator and managing editor of the Washington Week program, Ifill also served as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.

Last updated on November 15, 2016, at 11:05 a.m. ET

Posted on November 14, 2016, at 2:07 p.m. ET

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Gwen Ifill, the esteemed longtime PBS political reporter and one of the most prominent black journalists in the country, died Monday, her network announced. She was 61.

"It is with extreme sadness that we share the news that Gwen Ifill passed away earlier today surrounded by family and friends," PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said in a statement.

Ifill had been battling cancer, multiple outlets reported, and took a leave of absence in April for treatment, before retuning in May. Earlier this month, she again went on leave for health reasons.

"Gwen was one of America’s leading lights in journalism and a fundamental reason public media is considered a trusted window on the world by audiences across the nation," Kerger said. "Her contributions to thoughtful reporting and civic discourse simply cannot be overstated."

In addition to being the moderator and managing editor of the Washington Week program, Ifill also served as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.

At a press conference in the White House on Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama offered his condolences to Ifill's loved ones.

"Gwen was a friend of ours. She was an extraordinary journalist. She always kept faith with the fundamental responsibilities of her profession, asking tough questions, holding people in power accountable, and defending a strong and free press," he said.

"I always appreciated Gwen's reporting, even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews," Obama said.

Obama pays tribute to Gwen Ifill: "I always appreciated [her] reporting even when I was at the receiving end of one… https://t.co/6BzUEnUgUb

Before joining PBS in 1999, Ifill worked as a political reporter for NBC News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. She also reported for the Baltimore Evening Sun and the Boston Herald American.

The veteran reporter also moderated two vice-presidential debates during her career; first in 2004 between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, and then again in 2008 between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

Pool / Getty Images

In 2009, she released the best-selling book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

Ifill and Judy Woodruff in 2013 became the first all-female anchor team for the NewsHour program, which PBS said was a first for network television.

Speaking to the New York Times at the time, Ifill said she wanted to serve as an inspiration young black girls.

“When I was a little girl watching programs like [NewsHour] — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color,” she told the newspaper. “I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal — that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all."

Kerger, the PBS president, said her entire network was sending their sincere condolences to Ifill's family and friends.

"[Ifill] often said that her job was to bring light rather than heat to issues of importance to our society. Gwen did this with grace and a steadfast commitment to excellence," Kerger said.

"Our sorrow at her passing is a part of our profound gratitude for all that she did for our system and our nation. It was an honor to know Gwen and to work with her," she said.

Reporting the news of Ifill's death on NBC, reporter Pete Williams choked back tears as he remembered his late friend. "Gwen would want me to get this together," he said.

JUST IN: Renowned journalist Gwen Ifill has died at age 61. @PeteWilliamsNBC reports https://t.co/BQQwhv9Gfp

Ifill's fellow political reporters and journalists paid tribute to her on Twitter, as did politicians and other high-profile people:

Love the tributes to @gwenifill coming from everywhere, but what a hole she's left in our hearts

Howlingly sad. Dear sweet Gwen is gone. RIP @gwenifill

Very sad to learn we have lost Gwen Ifill. Gwen represented the best of broadcast journalism. Our hearts are broken.

I am heartbroken to report that Gwen Ifill has died. Ifill had been battling cancer. She was 61.

Tough. Gracious. Fair. Jill and I knew Gwen Ifill. She set the highest bar to the end, defining the character of America, inspiring us all.

With deep and profound sadness. My friend, -- the @NewsHour anchor @gwenifill has gone on to glory. We will miss her voice, her works & more

We mourn the loss of an outstanding and beloved journalist and friend. Gwen Ifill will be deeply missed.

I'm saddened to learn of the passing of @gwenifill. She was an amazing journalist and will be truly missed.

I will miss Gwen Ifill, a trailblazer in journalism. She was always calm, wise and fair in her presentation of the news.

.@gwenifill I'm heartbroken and not ready for the past tense with you. Sending all the love in the world to your family and loved ones.

CORRECTION

Ifill sought medical treatment in April, before returning to air in May. She took leave again in November for health reasons. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported she had been off the air since May.

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