I’ll never forget that phone call. It was Dr. Willke on the other end asking me to move from Sacramento, California, to Cincinnati. Jack was stepping down as president of the National Right to Life Committee and was concerned there weren’t enough pro-life resources being directed into pro-life education—the foundation on which political and legislative victories are made. He wanted to start a new organization called Life Issues Institute and was asking if I would join him in getting it up and running. I contemplated my answer for only an hour or two before calling him back with an affirmative. However, I had one reservation. Dr. Willke had been a mentor to me and I had placed him on a pedestal. Would working side-by-side expose his warts and knock him off? After nearly 24 years it never did.
Most of the technology Life Issues Institute currently depends upon didn’t exist back in 1991 when it first began. There were no websites, our daily radio commentaries were delivered on cassette tapes, and technology hadn’t advanced to the point of us being financially able to produce a quality TV program. There was no email or social networks either. But under Dr. Willke’s leadership, Life Issues Institute used changing technology and an evolving society to reach millions more with the truth about abortion. That was one of the brilliant talents of Jack and Barbara, sometimes known as the dynamic duo of the pro-life movement. They could identify a need as well as a way to fill it while turning more hearts and minds to a compassionate pro-life stance. Over the years Life Issues Institute has made a profound impact on expanding pro-life education and promoting unity within the movement.
Jack was already 65 when we began the Institute, so his lifespan was always a consideration. As he entered his late seventies we began to implement what would be a long, gradual change of leadership. My primary goal as executive director, friend and colleague to Jack and Barbara was to make sure the Institute continued the amazing pro-life legacy they began in the 1960s. I promised them that we would keep their legacy alive after they were gone.
Intellectually I knew the day would come when God would call Jack home. Barbara had died almost two years before and Jack was intent on being with Jesus and reunited with his bride of nearly 65 years. However, when that fateful day arrived, all mental preparation seemingly flew out the window. I’ll never forget that phone call either. My wife, Ellen, and I were at a conference in southern California. It was Marie, Jack’s daughter, on the other end, her gentle voice telling me that “Dad has passed.” He died unexpectedly and peacefully at his home. It felt as if the air had been sucked out of everything around me. Jack had been part of my entire adult life and now my mentor, my second father, was gone. It would be a radical and painful adjustment. But God’s people have been praying for our staff and me—prayers that I can literally feel the effects of. While it’s true that our emotions are tattered and torn, Life Issues Institute will continue providing crucial pro-life tools, research and information for the pro-life movement at large and individuals throughout the United States and around the world. Jack and I labored for over a decade to make sure the needs of unborn babies and their parents would not suffer due to Jack’s final journey home. Recently Jack and Barbara finished their last book, Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement, An Inside View. It’s an autobiographical history of the pro-life movement. It’s imperative that the next generation joining this fight for life know how we’ve gotten to this point of optimistic anticipation. One of my favorite stories involves underwear and a taxicab in Hawaii. But you’ll have to read the book to learn more. It’s available at Buy Books on the Web. Years ago Congressman Henry Hyde, an eloquent spokesperson for America’s unborn babies, said this about those who sacrifice and labor to protect innocent human life.
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,’—and God will look at you and say not, ‘Did you succeed?’ but, ‘Did you try?’
Just imagine millions of babies greeting Jack at heaven’s door—all reaching up to him, thanking him for trying to save their lives. This mental image gives me great comfort. Please keep us and our life-saving work in your prayers. We really need them right now.