Trailblazing journalist Gwen Ifill was an inspiration to young women everywhere, President Obama said Monday, honoring the longtime PBS news anchor who died after a battle with cancer at the age of 61.

Obama said Ifill "did her country a great service" with her tough questioning and well-informed stories.

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"I always appreciated Gwen's reporting, even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews," Obama said to reporters at a news conference at the White House Monday. 

"Whether she reported from a convention floor or from the field, whether she sat at the debate moderator's table or at the anchor's desk, she not only informed today's citizens, but she inspired tomorrow's journalists."

Ifill was an "extraordinary journalist" who defended the "strong and free press," Obama said. 

"She was an especially powerful role model for young women and girls who admired her integrity, her tenacity and her intellect, and for whom she blazed a trail as one half of the first all-female anchor team on network news."