Pro-lifers across the country are mourning the loss of Nellie Gray, the woman behind the largest annual pro-life demonstration in the country – the March for Life.
"She's been a true heroine of this movement," Jeanne Monahan, who has been named interim president of March for Life, told The Christian Post Tuesday. "She was an extremely outspoken and eloquent advocate for the most vulnerable members of our culture."
The March for Life team is still waiting on reports to confirm the exact day and time of Gray's death but Monahan said it appears she passed sometime over the weekend. She was 88.
"It appears to have been a natural death," Monahan said, noting that her death took the March for Life board of directors by surprise.
Pro-life groups began posting tributes on Tuesday as news spread of Gray's passing.
"Nellie lived a life of heroic service to the unborn. Nellie will be remembered most for her passionate and ardent protection of every life, without exception," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a statement.
"As we approach the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the sad reality that 54 million babies have been lost to abortion in America, let us pay appropriate homage to Nellie by recommitting ourselves to do everything possible to protect and defend the unborn."
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, was personally impacted by Gray. In fact, it was Gray's March for Life that "cemented" his vocation and passion for pro-life issues.
Praising her for mobilizing an army for life every year since 1974, Pavone called her a "tireless warrior for the unborn."
Her motto was "no exceptions."
Demonstrating just how tireless she was, Monahan said Gray was advocating for the unborn until her death. Just last week, she was making phone calls and writing letters.
Before her decades of pro-life advocacy, Gray worked for nearly 30 years as a lawyer for the U.S. Government in the Departments of State and Labor. When the Big Spring, Texas, native retired from working for the federal government, that was around the time the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in 1973 that would legalize abortion throughout the U.S.
Beginning in 1974, Gray arranged for people to participate in a peaceful protest. Twenty thousand people joined, according to the March for Life website. Each year, the crowd continued to grow and also attract a larger youthful following. The march, held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, now draws hundreds of thousands of participants.
"It was an anniversary that broke Nellie Gray's heart every year, and every day," Pavone stated.
Pavone also shared an email he received from Gray just days ago. The following is the final correspondence from her to Pavone (following up on a meeting they had weeks ago to discuss the 2013 March for Life):
Dear Father Pavone,
This is a follow-up note from the Meeting…
Of course, the purpose of the March for Life is still to overturn Roe v.Wade and gain protection for the right to life of each born and pre-born human – no exception and no compromise! This purpose is expressed in the Life Principles which the March for Life Board of Directors adopted for the love of God at its beginning in 1973, and which we will continue to restate in prayer at our 40th annual March for Life, January 24-25, 2013.
ProLife Americans want "no exception" because that is the right and only position to take for our beloved country. We cannot allow our country intentionally to kill even one preborn. We can stop this killing when all of us who say we are "prolife" become unified on the Life Principles – no exception-no compromise – and vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. We can do that!
We view March for Life as all-American, all-inclusive, and we really hope that all prolife people and organizations will unify under one banner.
After 40 years and 55,000,000 killed preborn babies, we must get unity among prolife people to gain the "prolife strength and sound message". We shall unify and stop the evil of abortion because it is evil.
Thank you again, I needed that good talk. Yes, we shall work together.
Sincerely in Life, Nellie
In January 2013, pro-lifers will march in Gray's memory and in her honor "by doing everything possible to protect every preborn human person and to end the scourge of abortion in the United States," said March for Life organizers.