Pro-life leaders across the country are mourning the death of Nellie Gray, the woman who founded the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. to commemorate each January the legalization of abortion.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, described Gray as “a visionary woman” with “a fierce heart that valued all people – born and unborn.”
Yoest explained that Gray “understood the importance of a national memorial event to commemorate the significance of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.”
The annual march has become a “visual reminder of the broken hearts of millions of Americans who continue to struggle with the callous attitude of the abortion industry toward unborn children and their vulnerable mothers,” she said.
On the evening of Aug. 13, news broke that Gray had passed away over the weekend in her Washington, D.C. home. She was 86 years old.
Born in Big Spring, Texas, Gray served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and worked for nearly 30 years for the U.S. Department of State and Department of Labor.
In 1974, Gray helped found the March for Life as a way to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States.
The march has become an annual event, drawing hundreds of thousands of people, including youth from all over the nation, to stand up for the dignity of human life in the nation’s capital.
News of Gray’s death was met with sorrow from leaders of the pro-life community, as well as praise for the work that she accomplished.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said that Gray “began and maintained a purity of intention rare to any human rights movement.”
She explained that Gray relied upon “the power of the Holy Spirit” to guide her, and showed that this was “more effective than all the political strategy this world could formulate.”
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, applauded Gray’s commitment to the march, even “in the worst of weather and poor health.”
Without a doubt, he said, “countless preborn children have been saved” by Gray’s leadership, and “millions of lives have been touched.”
Observing how the annual march “refuels the passion of pro-life Americans,” Smith vowed that the pro-life community will continue Gray’s legacy “of unceasing commitment to defending the unborn.”
Catholic professor and researcher Michael J. New reflected in a National Review Online article that while pro-lifers may be tempted to take the March for Life for granted, it is “actually a remarkable achievement,” uniting scores of pro-life groups across the country, despite their differences in strategy and religious belief.
In addition, New said, many people do not realize that Gray – who had a law degree from Georgetown University – was also influential in crafting ideas for a Human Life Amendment that could be added to the U.S. Constitution.
The annual March for Life has made a powerful impression on many of those who have had the opportunity to witness it, including Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
A 2010 article in Newsweek magazine quoted Keenan recalling the experience of seeing the pro-life crowds gathered in Washington, D.C. for the march one year.
"I just thought, my gosh, they are so young," she said. "There are so many of them, and they are so young."
Commemorating 40 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, the next March for Life will be held in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 25, 2013.
Yoest said that Gray will be missed at the upcoming march, but added that the pro-life community will continue in her footsteps “with deep gratitude for the example she set of sacrifice and commitment to the human rights struggle of our day.”