No Shades of Gray
A life of dedication to life.

Nellie Gray in 2009


When we lose someone like Nellie Gray, founder of the March for Life, we mourn the loss of an extraordinary advocate for the unborn. We tell the story of her life as a faithful Catholic who was eager to welcome everyone from cardinals to schoolchildren as part of the annual rally and March. We mourn her loss, but it is also a time to celebrate the difference that one life can make.

Nellie’s main concern wasn’t record-breaking crowds or fancy dinners; it was helping people come to Washington to make their voices heard by their elected officials. She was convinced that speaking truth to power could actually end abortion. The annual march and rally became a true celebration of life that flourished and gave rise over the years to dozens of other pro-life prayer services, rallies, and conferences. It led to an overwhelming growth in attendance at annual events like the National Prayer Vigil for Life, especially by young people.

It would be easy to despair that this coming January will mark 40 years of legalized abortion. We find hope in the record numbers of pro-life laws passed by states in recent years, and polls showing that the majority of Americans are now pro-life. As pro-lifers work toward a culture that increasingly welcomes the unborn, Nellie remains an inspiration. For many, attending their first March for Life inspired them to be pro-life in all that they do as teachers, parents, and volunteers in their churches and communities. Many even chose to be full-time members in the pro-life movement.

In our own way, you and I are also called to speak up against abortion and stand up for life. It doesn’t require a fancy degree or a super PAC. It’s as simple as grabbing a backpack and a bus ride to Washington. Or speaking up, whenever and wherever those who are vulnerable are at risk. This is our lesson: One life can make a difference.

May God bring Nellie home to rest in peace, and may God bless each of us with the heart and courage to be a voice for the voiceless.

— Mary McClusky is special-projects coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Nellie Gray truly was like a modern-day Queen Esther. She stood firm and told the truth to the leaders of our nation about the destruction of the unborn. She was born for “such a time as this.” Her legacy will continue as we march this coming year and as long as it takes to overturn Roe v. Wade in an attempt to protect women and babies from the horror of abortion. Nellie would want us to continue her tireless fight. I am inspired by the legacy she leaves.

This 2013 March for Life will mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the 39th anniversary of the March, and the first march without its leader and visionary, Nellie Gray. Yet the heart of the pro-life movement is not really the courts or the Congress or even one particular individual. Those are the brains.

No, the heart of the pro-life movement is encapsulated in all the millions of volunteers who toil away in anonymity, marching to support life and working tirelessly to defend the innocent unborn. To end abortion, we need to change the culture; to change the culture, we need to change hearts. This is exactly what the March for Life aims to achieve, and as a result, attitudes are definitely changing and life is being celebrated more and more.

If I could tell Nellie Gray now how much her example of leadership means to the women of this country — from serving as a corporal in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II to retiring from a professional life as a lawyer to become a pro-life activist — I know she would humbly pass it off. But I pray young ladies see Miss Gray’s example and follow in her very big footsteps to lead the women of this country towards a better future.

— Penny Young Nance is president of Concerned Women for America.