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Dr. John “Jack” Willke, champion of unborn, dies at 89

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By Walt Schaefer

The unborn have lost a dear friend, a protector, and a champion.

Dr. John C. “Jack” Willke, perhaps the most visible and outspoken advocate for the life of the unborn, died Feb. 20 — two months short of his 90th birthday.

 Dr. Willke was preceded in death by his wife of almost 65 years, Barbara, in April,2013. Together the couple founded Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati in the 1970s and followed by forming Ohio Right to Life.

“Dr. Willke was the leading statesman addressing the second civil rights struggle of our nation,” said Paula Westwood, executive director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. “He met with presidents and popes and crossed the globe, but his passion was always to ensure the right of life for helpless unborn children and other vulnerable people.”

Locally, “we are mourning the loss of our beloved leader,” Westwood said. “We cherish the memory of the past couple of years when he would step in our office for coffeecake, share a memory or two plus some tears for his much loved wife, Barbara. We only hope to honor his memory and in some small way live up to his larger-than-life example.”  

A physician, author, lecturer, television and radio personality, and expert in human sexuality, Dr. Willke served as president of the national Life Issues Institute headquartered in Cincinnati. He served a decade as president of the U.S. National Right to Life Committee and helped found the International Right to Life Federation in 1984. He was president emeritus.

“I worked with him early on when he was first starting out,” said Mary Anne Boyd, who served 25 years as Respect Life Coordinator in the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati until her retirement in 2013. “We went on a couple of TV shows — things like that. It was 44 years ago. No matter where he was at any time of his life, he had a passion for the pro-life movement… and he was never reticent about expressing his beliefs and sharing them — even in difficult situations.”

Phil Burress, president for Citizens for Community Values, crossed paths with Dr. Willke on many occasions and worked with Dr. Willke’s wife in forming the Voters’ Information Network. “He was just a gentleman and his passion for saving babies was contagious.” Burress said. Important in maintaining his staunch position on the issue, “was the way he did it. He did it in love. You could argue with him in debates and he would stand his ground, but he never raised his voice. He never got angry whether or not you agree or disagree with his position. He was the type of person you just had to like.”

Dr. Willke practiced medicine for 40 years in Cincinnati, serving on the senior attending staff of Good Samaritan Hospital and the former Providence Hospital. His daily five-minute radio program was carried on some 400 radio stations over 18 years. and his one minute commentaries, “Life Jewels” were heard on more than 1,000 stations in English and Spanish in the United States, Australia, South Africa and Brazil. He lectured in 85 countries.

Dan Andriacco, communications director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, first met Dr. Willke more than 40 years ago. “I was awed by him then, and I still am,” he said. “The importance of his work to build the culture of life in partnership with his late wife cannot be overstated. The last time I saw Jack Willke he was with his beloved Barbara. How nice to think that he is with her again.”

With his wife, Dr. Willke authored their fourth generation book, video, PowerPoint and slide set, Abortion, Questions and Answers: Why Can’t We Love Them Both; and also wrote Abortion and Slavery, History Repeats and Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia, Past & Present. In January, the autobiography of Dr. Willke and his wife was published: Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement: An Inside View.

 “ Dr. Willke was a true giant in the pro-life movement. yet always warm, always humble, a mentor and a friend,” said Jack Hart, current president of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati., “We can never replace him. We can only do our best to carry on his legacy, and redouble our efforts to create the culture of life that he worked so hard and so well to bring about.”



A Mass of Christian Burial for Dr. Willke will be celebrated at St. Clare Church in College Hill on Feb. 26, with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presiding.

Posted February 25,2015

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