RIP: Dr. Jack Willke

By Dave Andrusko

Dr. and Mrs. John Willke

Dr. and Mrs. John Willke

I was driving through a snowstorm today when I learned that Dr. Jack Willke, a towering figure in the formation and growth of the Pro-Life Movement, had died. I checked several sources to be sure the sad news was true. How could it be true? Jack, although 89, was like the Rock of Gibraltar, only sturdier.

Along with Barbara, his wife of seemingly forever, Jack provided the Movement with some of its earliest and most persuasive educational materials. Barb, who was also instrumental in the founding of Cincinnati Right to Life, passed away in April 2013.

He was president of NRLC for almost the entire decade of the 1980s and was pivotal in the expansion of the Washington office of the nation’s preeminent grassroots pro-life organization. I first met Jack in the summer of 1981 when I interviewed for the job of editor of National Right to Life News.

But in a sense, like countless others, I already “knew” Jack. For those of us whose involvement extends back to the early days, none of us went to any speaking engagement without “the Willke slides.” And had any of us learned the ABCs of abortion without having devoured the Willkes’ “Handbook on Abortion”?

During the ten years as NRLC President (1980-1983 and 1984-1991), he appeared on countless radio and television programs and went abroad many, many times as a good will ambassador for our Movement.

When NRLC presented “The Henry Hyde Award for Lifetime Achievement” to the Willkes, we published a short summary of what the Godfather and Godmother of our Movement accomplished in the NRLC Convention Yearbook: co-authoring 12 books on abortion and human sexuality; speaking in 64 different countries; and creating audio and visual materials used around the world and translated into 30 languages on five continents.

Paula Westwood, executive director of the Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, beautifully encapsulated Jack’s contribution in a statement released following Jack’s death on Friday.

“Dr. Willke was the leading statesman addressing the second civil rights struggle of our nation. He met with presidents and popes and crossed the globe, but his passion was always to ensure the right to life for helpless unborn children and other vulnerable people.”

Thank you, Jack and Barbara, for all you did. Your legacy will live on forever.