The pro-life movement lost one of our great figures the other day, with the death of Nellie Gray. Most people have never heard of her, yet she was the driving force behind the annual March for Life. The march is the largest, longest-lasting public witness in the history of the United States (even if it is regularly ignored by the media). Nellie helped found the March in 1974, she hosted the rally itself, and she proudly lead the way down Commonwealth Avenue, regardless of the weather or the political climate. She was a force of nature in the pro-life movement, and the March is a seminal event for us — it’s a combination of rally, party, and requiem.
I never met Nellie, but I have been to many Marches. I was asked to contribute to a memorial for Nellie, and here was what I offered:
Nellie Gray and the Gifts of Constancy and Renewal
One of the many things to consider about the life and work of Nellie Gray is how she, and her beloved March for Life, represent what is so great about the pro-life movement, and what continues to confound its opponents.
Anyone who has been to the March will quickly notice several things. There are so many stalwarts there who have fought to defend life for years — just like Nellie Gray. They were out there when the states started legalizing abortion, and when Roe v. Wade was decided. They have shown the strength of the movement by their fidelity to the cause over many, many years. Constancy — staying the course in a just cause.
They also notice all the young people who are filled with passion for defending life — just as Nellie Gray was. The March is a rally and party, remarkable for an event about such a lamentable reality. This atmosphere, particularly the energy of the pro-life youth, lifts us up and encourages us that there is hope for the future. Renewal — transforming new hearts and minds and culture.
No movement in America is less fashionable and fancy than the pro-life cause. Its opponents cannot understand its appeal and its longevity. The March for Life is hardly a glamorous event. There are no movie stars, rock musicians, or A-list celebrities in sight, and there is little likelihood that it will become the next big fad.
But Nellie understood. The truth of the pro-life movement is very simple — every life has value. This drove Nellie Gray — and millions like her — to be steadfast defenders of life, and it continually renews the cause. Nellie Gray was an ordinary woman called by God to do exceptional work, with constancy and hope for renewal. The March goes on.
We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), and Nellie Gray was one of them. Please pray for the repose of her soul and her eternal happiness with God, and for the consolation of her many friends and colleagues.