Barbara Willke, who was often considered the godmother of the modern-day pro-life movement, has passed away.
Willke, along with her husband Jack, a medical doctor, crisscrossed the nation in the 1960s and 1970s teaching people about the fight for life and helping set up some of the first state and local Right to Life groups combating abortion before and after the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.
With great sadness, Cincinnati Right to Life and pro-life advocates across the country are mourning her loss today. Willke served as co-founder along with her husband and as chairman of the organization for 28 years. She died peacefully Sunday night at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, after suffering a severe head injury due to a fall. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“Mrs. Willke was a woman of courage and intelligence whose lifelong commitment to preserving the sanctity of human life is a moving legacy,” said Paula Westwood, Executive Director Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. “No one can fill her shoes.”
Barbara Willke was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and internationally known author, lecturer, and expert in human sexuality. She held B.S. and R.N. degrees from the University of Cincinnati, College of Nursing & Health, plus graduate studies at University of Dayton.
Mother of six, grandmother of 22, foster mother of several teenagers, Barbara headed the Department at the College of Nursing for five years before her full-time career as wife and mother.
Her husband, Dr. John Willke, is past president of National Right to Life, president, Life Issues Institute and president emeritus, International Right to Life Federation. They would have been married for 65 years this June.
With Dr. Willke, Barbara co-authored twelve books on human sexuality and abortion. Together they created audio and visual materials that were proven to be basic teaching tools throughout the world. Their materials have been translated into 30 languages on all five continents. She and Dr. Willlke frequently appeared on radio and TV shows. They have spoken in 64 different countries.
“Barbara was always a joy to be with, and the work she did in the movement helped lay the foundation for decades of life-saving activity,” said Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life. “We will miss her, but we will carry her spirit with us and build on her work!”
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Mrs. Willke was awarded honorary doctorates from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and, along with Dr. Willke, Cincinnati’s Xavier University.
Congressman Henry Hyde’s words bring to mind Barbara Willke:
When the time comes, as it surely will, when we face that awesome moment, the final judgment, I’ve often thought, as Fulton Sheen wrote, that it is a terrible moment of loneliness. You have no advocates, you are there alone standing before God — and a terror will rip your soul like nothing you can imagine. But I really think that those in the pro-life movement will not be alone. I think there’ll be a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard beautifully and clearly in the next world — and they will plead for everyone who has been in this movement. They will say to God, ‘Spare him, because he loved us!’