By Dave Andrusko
It was late in the evening when I learned that Nellie Gray, Esq., founder of the March for Life, had died at 88 years of age. Like every other member of the National Right to Life staff, I mourn the passing of a woman who seemed indestructible.
My most vivid memory of Nellie came soon after my wife and I had moved to Washington, DC to work for NRLC in 1981. I needed some information about the annual gathering which brought people from all over the nation, so naturally I called the offices of March for Life. Nellie answered!
What I remember most of all—beyond the surprising fact that she answered her own phone—was how gracious Nellie was. Maybe she sensed that a rookie like me needed schooling in the history of the March and the Movement (I did), so she took the time to go far beyond answering the questions I had about the basics.
I will never forget one year when I made a small error (emphasis on small) in describing some minute detail about the upcoming March in the December issue of National Right to Life News. Nellie called to politely help me understand that no mistake was too small when the objective was to bring as many people as possible to the nation’s capital.
And those numbers grew and grew and grew, from a relatively modest turnout of 20,000 in 1974. I watched the evolution of the gathering, beginning with my first participation in 1982 with something approaching awe.
Beyond the expansion in the numbers—local authorities no longer give official estimates but the Marches routinely drew more than 100,000 people– the most striking change was the enormous numbers of young people who began to attend. Passion, enthusiasm, empathy—what motivates and characterizes young people—is what gives our Movement such reason for hope for the future and what so discourages pro-abortionists.
We’ve written many times about the observations of out-going NARAL President Nancy Keenan, when she stepped off a train in Washington’s Union Station a few years back and saw the tidal wave of young people at the annual March.
“I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan told Newsweek. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
The beauty of any symbolic march on Washington—which is what the March for Life was and is–is not just that it lifts spirits and increases solidarity. That is important. But equally important is that it stirs people to action beyond that one day gathering and motivates others to do likewise at the local level.
For decades National Right to Life state and local affiliates have made their presence known at state capitols. When it comes to moving legislation along, to have thousands of pro-lifers gathering in often freezing temperatures sends an unmistakable message.
Our sympathies and best wishes go out to Nellie’s family. Her passing comes a few months before the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
No one doubts that Nellie will be cheering on the crowd and smiling from afar.
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