Ifill Longtime Friend Retha Hill

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Retha Hill is the executive director of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab and a professor of practice at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She was also Gwen Ifill’s longtime friend.

TED SIMONS: RETHA HILL IS A PROFESSOR OF PRACTICE AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE DIGITAL INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP LAB AT ASU'S CRONKITE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM AND MASS COMMUNICATION. SHE WAS GWEN IFILL'S FRIEND. SHE JOINS US NOW. DID YOU KNOW SHE WAS ILL?

RETHA HILL: I DID NOT KNOW SHE WAS THAT ILL. SHE HAD TAKEN OFF TIME BUT I SAW HER AT THE BLACK JOURNALIST CONFERENCE AND SHE WAS THE SAME OLD GWEN.

TED SIMONS: DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT SHE KEPT IT QUIET AS SHE DID?

RETHA HILL: NOT REALLY. SHE HAD A WARM PERSONALITY, BUT SHE WAS ALSO QUIET. I THINK PROBABLY A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS KNEW HER TRUE CIRCUMSTANCE AS WELL AS HER BROTHER AND FAMILY CLOSE TO HER. SHE WASN'T ONE TO TALK ABOUT HER PERSONAL LIFE.

TED SIMONS: A PUBLIC FIGURE ON TELEVISION AND WELL KNOWN AROUND THE COUNTRY, BUT A PRIVATE PERSON?

RETHA HILL: SHE WAS PRIVATE. NOT IN A STAND OFFISH TYPE OF WAY, BUT SHE ONLY LET CERTAIN PEOPLE KNOW EVERYTHING GOING ON WITH HER. SHE DIDN'T REALLY PUT HERSELF OUT THERE LIKE A LOT OF NEWS PEOPLE AND PEOPLE WHO ARE ON AIR NOW DAYS WHERE YOU ALMOST KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THEM.

TED SIMONS: YOU CAN'T AVOID THEM. TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP NOW. YOU WORKED TOGETHER AT THE WASHINGTON POST.

RETHA HILL: I WAS A YOUNG REPORTER, CAME TO THE POST IN THE 1980S. COMING UP FROM THE "CHARLOTTE OBSERVER" TO THE WASHINGTON POST WAS A BIG STEP. IT WAS MY SECOND JOB OUT OF JOURNALISM SCHOOL. I'LL NEVER FORGET A MONTH INTO MY JOB, GWEN IFILL AND MICHELLE MCQUEEN WHO IS NOW MICHELLE MARTIN TOOK ME TO DINNER. THEY WANTED TO MAKE SURE I WAS OKAY, WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT WASHINGTON AND THE WASHINGTON POST AND GIVE ME TIPS ON HOW TO SURVIVE AT A VERY COMPETITIVE NEWS ROOM. THE WASHINGTON POST IS OUT OF CENTRAL CASTING WHEN IT COMES TO BEING AN AGGRESSIVELY COMPETITIVE PLACE WHERE YOU FIGHT YOUR WAY UP TO THE CHOICE ASSIGNMENTS. THEY WANTED TO MAKE SURE I UNDERSTOOD THE LAY OF THE LAND AND HOW TO CONDUCT MYSELF.

TED SIMONS: HOW DID SHE MENTOR YOU?

RETHA HILL: IT WAS A MATTER OF STAYING TRUE TO WHO YOU ARE AND NOT TRYING TO SLIP ON THE WASHINGTON REPORTER POWER ELITE GARB SOME PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY GET TO A PLACE LIKE THE WASHINGTON POST OR WASHINGTON IN GENERAL. I THINK IT WAS EASY FOR ME TO TAKE THAT FROM HER BECAUSE YOU COULD SEE SHE WAS THAT TYPE OF PERSON. SHE WAS WHO SHE WAS. SHE WAS NOT TRYING TO EMULATE OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAD PERHAPS BEEN IN WASHINGTON FOR LONGER PERIODS OF TIME. HER ADVISE TO ME WAS TO BE MYSELF, STAY TRUE TO MYSELF, NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN THE GOSSIP OR COMPETITIVENESS IN A WAY THAT WAS NOT HEALTHY.

TED SIMONS: RIGHT. SHE BECAME A ROLE MODEL.

RETHA HILL: DEFINITELY A ROLE MODEL. GWEN WAS, I THOUGHT OF HER AS UNFLAPPABLE. SHE HAD A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR BUT A GREAT REPORTER, WONDERFUL PERSON, AND SOMEONE WHO EARNED THE RESPECT OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE.

TED SIMONS: WHAT WAS SHE LIKE AWAY FROM THE OFFICE?

RETHA HILL: OH MY QUAD, THE SENSE OF HUMOR YOU PICK UP WATCHING HER, THAT WAS IN ABUNDANCE. SHE WAS THE TYPE OF PERSON AT A PARTY, SITTING AND TALKING TO HER YOU WERE LAUGHING JUST ABOUT THE ENTIRE TIME. SHE HAD SUCH A WHIT. SHE WAS WELL READ AND SHE WOULD MAKE COMMENTS THAT HAD YOU LAUGHING CRYING. ON NEW YEAR'S DAY SHE HAD AN OPEN HOUSE AT HER HOUSE WHERE GOOD FRIENDS WOULD COME OVER AND SHE WOULD HAVE LOTS OF FOOD. IT WAS A GOOD WAY TO START THE NEW YEAR OFF WITH AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN FOOD. OTHER TIMES SHE WOULD HAVE IT CATERED. THE FIRST HOUSE SHE BOUGHT IN WASHINGTON WAS NOT IN A FANCY ZIP CODE IN WASHINGTON D.C., BUT A WORKING CLASS NEIGHBORHOOD DOWN IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY, AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN TO GO OVER THERE AND LAUGH AND JOKE AND PLAY GAMES, PARLOR GAMES.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU THINK SHE WAS GROUNDED? YOU DESCRIBED HER AS DOWN HOME. DO YOU THINK SHE WAS LIKE THAT BECAUSE OF HER FAMILY? IT'S A STRONG, RELIGIOUS, STRONG AND ACHIEVING FAMILY.

RETHA HILL: FOR SURE. HER FATHER WAS A BISHOP AT THE AME CHURCH. HER BROTHER WAS ONE OF THE YOUNGEST DEAN TO COME UP THROUGH THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS SYSTEM. SHE HAD A SISTER WHO WAS IN THE DIPLOMATIC CORE. HER MOTHER DID AMAZING THINGS IN THE COMMUNITY. I THINK SHE HAD THE GROUNDING FROM A STRONG FAMILY THAT VALUED EDUCATION, WHERE HER SIBLINGS ACHIEVED AND SHE ACHIEVED. GROWING UP IN THE CHURCH, SHE HAD THE GROUNDING TO BE DOWN TO EARTH AND NOT PRETENTIOUS WHICH SO MANY IN WASHINGTON ARE.
TED SIMONS: I WOULD IMAGINE JOURNALISTS AND OUTSIDE OF JOURNALISM AS WELL, CORRECT?
RETHA HILL: FOR SURE. SHE JUST WASN'T LIKE THAT.
TED SIMONS: WHEN YOU REMEMBER GWEN IFILL, WHEN YOU STOP TO REMEMBER HER FROM NOW ON, WHAT WILL YOU THINK ABOUT?

RETHA HILL: I'LL THINK ABOUT THE LAST TIME I SAW HER IN AUGUST BACK IN WASHINGTON D.C. SHE CAME TO THE NABJ CONVENTION AND SHE AND OTHER REPORTERS THAT WORKED TOGETHER AT THE WASHINGTON POST OVER THE YEAR, WE WERE STANDING AROUND AND WE WERE LAUGHING AND TAKING SELFIES AND CRACKING ON DAYS OF LONG AGO AND HAVING A GREAT TIME. THAT'S WHAT I REMEMBER HER BIG SMILE AND BROAD SMILE, THE TWINKLE IN HER EYE WAS ALWAYS THERE.

TED SIMONS: I KNOW IT'S A VERY DIFFICULT DAY FOR YOU AND ALL OF US THAT WATCHED GWEN. WE THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

RETHA HILL: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

AGAIN, PBS CO-HOST GWEN IFILL PASSED AWAY. WE HAVE ANOTHER CLIP SIX WEEKS AGO TO COMMEMORATE THE BIRTH OF WALTER CRONKITE IN WHICH GWEN LOOKED AHEAD TO THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM.
-PACKAGE-
SNAP CHAT I DON'T GET YET. I DON'T REALLY WANT TO KNOW, BUT I WANT THE PEOPLE TO TELL THE STORY, TELL THE ART, TELL IT RIGHT. I WANT THEM TO HAVE THE BASICS OF JOURNALISM THAT DRIVE THEM. I DON'T WANT THEM TO FORGET WHO WALTER CRONKITE WAS AND WHY HE WAS. THE HECK WITH US. WE WANT TO STEP AWAY FROM THIS AND MAKE SURE IT'S GENUINE AND REAL. FOR THAT REASON, WE COME HERE, GO TO COLLEGE CAMPUSES, WANT TO RAISE ANOTHER GENERATION OF PEOPLE THAT KNOW THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO TELL STORIES.
-END-

Retha Hill, professor of practice, ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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