August 24, 2012


Remembering Nellie Gray

Cardinal Sean O’Malley said she “will be remembered as the Joan of Arc of the Gospel of Life.”

Father Paul C.B. Schenck, founding director and chair of the National Pro-Life Center on Capitol Hill, said she was “an inspirational leader, a woman willing to stand against the currents regardless of the cost. As a champion of the right to life, human dignity and the common good, she almost single-handedly sustained the longest enduring public protest in American history, the March for Life.”

We, like so many others, were extremely saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Nellie Gray on Aug. 13 because she meant so much to the pro-life movement and our efforts to end abortion during the past four decades.

Gray, 86, was born in Texas in 1926, served as a corporal in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, and later earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in economics.

But there was so much more to the life of Nellie Gray—more than we can share and do justice to in this editorial space.

The pro-life advocate worked for the federal government for 28 years at the State Department and the Department of Labor. She also attended Georgetown University Law School. Gray later practiced law before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gray joined the Catholic Church as a young woman after she met a priest who taught her about the faith. She embraced its tenet of the dignity of all human life and became a staunch pro-life advocate.

With the support of the Knights of Columbus, she founded the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 1974 to protest the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion during all nine months of pregnancy.

For the next 38 years, Gray served as the strongest voice standing up for all life—from conception until natural death—at the March for Life held each January in Washington. She also established the March for Life Education and Defense Fund to sustain the event.

Gray recalled a few years ago how she became by default the emcee for the annual event, which now draws hundreds of thousands of pro-life supporters to our nation’s capital each year.

“What I couldn’t get was a master of ceremonies for the event,” she said. “Politicians didn’t want to get involved in a march, and people at that time weren’t interested in marches after the civil rights movement and other things. That left the emcee job to me.”

It was a job that she would embrace and do extremely well.

When it comes to life principles, she told the crowds each year, there should be “No exception! No compromise!”

And according to many pro-life advocates, she lived her life true to those convictions.

“The indelible mark she has left in this world can be seen in the generations of lives saved as a result of her dedicated work on behalf of the unborn,” said a statement from Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “As we approach the tragic 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are confident her legacy of pro-life activism will continue to inspire and affect change.”

“The architects of the pro-abortion movement in the United States thought that the opposition would go away, but close to 40 years later the issue is still very much alive, thanks in part to the annual March for Life and because of people like Nellie who are committed to the culture of life,” said Cardinal O’Malley.

A beacon of light in the pro-life world has gone home to God, but we believe Nellie Gray has now heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. … Come share in your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

We must continue her tireless work of being voices for the voiceless, speaking out on behalf of unborn children. Our faith demands it of us.

And we should do this not just on that one day each January when we gather in Washington, but every day.

May we build on Nellie Gray’s legacy so, please God, one day the horror of abortion will be a thing of the past.

—Mike Krokos

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