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