Last night came sad news that the 88-year-old founder of the March for Life, Nellie Gray, had passed away.

AmericanCatholic.org has a more detailed bio, but in brief, from Wikipedia:

Nellie J. Gray (1924-2012) was an American pro-life activist, who founded the annual March for Life in 1974, following the Supreme Court ruling, Roe v Wade, which decriminalized abortion the previous year.

A native of Texas and a Roman Catholic convert, Gray enlisted June 27, 1944 at Camp Bennett, Texas, and served as a corporal in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in economics.

She was an employee of the federal government for almost three decades, at the Departments of State and Labor. After attending Georgetown University Law School, she became a practicing lawyer. After Roe v Wade, she retired from her professional life and became a pro-life activist, beginning with the March for Life.

That first March saw 20,000 attend. Participation has grown every year to several hundred thousand, many to most young. And Nellie has attended every one.

Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, wrote in an email:

A pro-life giant has died today.  With Nellie Gray’s passing I am prompted to think about the self-less warriors who when they were in their 40s or 50′s jumped into the cause of life when Roe v. Wade was handed down and dedicated their remaining years – decades of dedication – to ending the slaughter of the unborn.

Nellie is in those ranks of the first leaders who showed the rest of us the way.

I last saw Nellie in Washington, D.C., in July, looking as spry as ever. Her death comes as a shock.

Nellie was an important figure in our movement. We can thank her for helping inspire two generations to pro-life youth, for launching an annual touchstone for our movement, and for providing a yearly reminder to the world of the devastating Roe v. Wade decision. Nellie will be missed.

[Photo of Nellie at the 2010 March for Life via Renata Photography]