In Memoriam: Pro-Life Pioneer John C. Willke Dies at Age 89

Dr. John C. WilkeDr. John C. (Jack) Willke, President of Life Issues Institute, passed away unexpectedly at his home in Cincinnati, OH, on Friday, February 20, at the age of 89.

Dr. Willke and his wife, Barbara, who died in 2013, are widely considered the parents of the pro-life movement. Their materials have been responsible for educating millions about abortion and have been translated into 32 languages.

Bradley Mattes, Executive Director of Life Issues Institute, said, "Words can't possibly express how sad we feel. Jack was almost 90 and we knew the time was approaching when he'd join his dear Barbara in heaven, but it's hard to say goodbye. Jack has been my mentor and colleague for over 23 years and was a second father to me."

In the early days of the right-to-life movement, the Willkes helped form the foundation of right-to-life educational efforts through the development of the “Willke slides” on fetal development and abortion, and their first book, The Handbook on Abortion, which sold an estimated 1.5 million copies. Both were considered must-haves for local activists.

For four decades, the Willkes crisscrossed the nation, speaking out on behalf of society’s most defenseless members. They inspired some of the earliest state and local right-to-life groups combatting abortion before the Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The Willkes co-founded Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati in the early 1970s.

In September 1973, Dr. Willke joined the National Right to Life board of directors representing his home state of Ohio, and served continuously until his retirement in 2012. He served in a variety of capacities throughout the 1970s, including terms as Vice Chairman of the Board and Vice President. He was elected President of National Right to Life (1980-1983 and 1984-1991), serving a total of 10 years. During his tenure, he helped raise the profile of the organization through countless radio and television appearances, and trips across the country and around the world as an ambassador for the right-to-life movement.

“There is no way to quantify the contributions Jack Willke, along with his wife Barbara, made to the right-to-life movement,” said Carol Tobias, President of National Right to Life. “Jack’s generous heart and wonderful sense of humor will be greatly missed. He and Barbara devoted their lives to the right-to-life movement, and we will be forever in their debt.

“Every pro-lifer relied on the ‘Willke slides’ on fetal development that beautifully depicted the development of the unborn child as well as the brutal reality of abortion,” Tobias added.

In addition to his work locally and nationally, Dr. Willke expanded right-to-life efforts with the formation of the International Right to Life Federation, which brought together pro-life organizations operating in countries around the world. He was President Emeritus of the organization at the time of his death.

In 1991, he founded the Cincinnati-based Life Issues Institute, and through the organization, continued his passion to educate the nation and the world about the tragic realities of abortion and euthanasia.

Together, the Willkes co-authored 12 books on human sexuality and abortion. They created audio and visual pro-life educational materials used throughout the world, and those materials have been translated into 30 languages on five continents. They jointly spoke in 64 different countries. For their selfless dedication and innumerable contributions to the pro-life cause, in June 2014, National Right to Life presented its inaugural “Henry J. Hyde Award for Lifetime Achievement” to Dr. Willke, and posthumously to his beloved wife, Barbara (who died in April 2013).

“The right-to-life movement has lost one of its most influential activists,” Tobias added. “But we know that Dr. Willke’s legacy of education and activism will live on in the countless men and women who were inspired to join the fight for life because of his efforts.”

By NRB Staff

Published: March 5, 2015


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