When Nellie Gray organized the first March for Life from her living room in the fall of 1973, she expected that “Congress would certainly pay attention to 20,000 people” converging on the capital to protest the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision’s inventing a constitutional right to abortion. Her response to Congress’s inaction was to retire from her job as a lawyer at the Department of Labor and dedicate her life to fighting against what she saw as a moral horror equal to the Holocaust or slavery. “No exceptions, no compromise” was her motto. “On a fundamental issue, you can’t strike a bargain,” she told Newsweek in 1978. “You are either for killing babies or you’re not. You can’t be for a little bit of killing babies.” A generation of pro-life activists was galvanized by her annual March, which she led until the end of her life in the hope that “someday we shall succeed for our beloved country.” Dead at 88. R.I.P.
Robert Hughes, art critic, documentarian, and historian, had the pugnacity of his native Australia and the sweeping rhetoric of his adopted America. Hughes was a modernist — which means he was an elitist and, at bottom, a traditionalist (the modernist rebels knew and respected the conventions they overturned). He abhorred anything flashy or cheap; one Hughesian blast arraigned “the image scavengers and recyclers who infest the wretchedly stylish woods of an already decayed, pulped-out postmodernism.” His works surveyed Australia, Lucian Freud, Barcelona, political correctness, American art, his near-fatal car crash, Goya, and Rome. Dead at 74. Museums and galleries are quieter places now. R.I.P.
There was no more important feminist than Helen Gurley Brown. Her 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl (written at the suggestion of her husband) sold a million copies, and for three decades she edited Cosmopolitan as a breathless lifestyle oracle. Eschewing the Marxism and lesbianism of other feminists, she instead offered Samuel Smiles for women, plus sex — lots of it. The Cosmo girl had clothes, a job, a husband, and orgasms, in no particular order. Children were not part of the mix (Brown herself was childless). As Joe Sobran noted in NR, Brown’s Cosmopolitan gave advice openly, unlike Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, which taught by implication (breasts and John Updike — cool!). Driven by memories of a poor childhood in Arkansas and Los Angeles, she worked hard and saved every nickel. Her many facelifts ultimately left her mummified. She bequeathed millions for grants and fellowships in journalism. Dead at 90. R.I.P.
There’s a new memorial on Capitol Hill, and it came together overnight. Under the tree outside the Exxon at the corner of 2nd and Massachusetts, there’s a pile of memorabilia — bundles of flowers, empty coffee cups, a picture of Princess Diana — that could commemorate only one person: Peter Bis, a ponytailed homeless man and D.C. icon who died of a heart attack on August 16. Pete spent his time under that tree, telling passersby how many days away the weekend was and warning them against skinny-dipping. He never called himself “homeless,” preferring the term “political refugee,” and he never asked for money. Sometimes he’d offer cigarettes to fellow smokers, and if you weren’t in too much of a hurry, he’d regale you with theories about CIA activity, the Clinton administration, and, above all else, the death of Princess Diana, who he said was a former love interest. He might not have had the best grasp of geopolitics, but he had a few friends in high places; when the D.C. city government threatened to make him move a pile of belongings he kept under the tree, two dozen of those friends (including congressional staffers and lobbyists) signed a petition protesting — and his stuff stayed put. Without his colorful theories and warm greetings, the Hill won’t be the same. R.I.P.