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Farewell, Jack Willke

by | Feb 27, 2015

By Carol Tobias, President

Dr. Jack Willke

Dr. Jack Willke

I had the great privilege of attending the funeral service for Jack Willke, one of my predecessors as president of National Right to Life. It would come as no surprise that Thursday’s funeral was well attended by leaders in the pro-life movement and many local pro-lifers and family friends.

Executive director David N. O’Steen, Ph.D., also represented NRLC. NRL Board members in attendance included Mike Gonidakis of Ohio, Margie Montgomery of Kentucky, and Kentucky alternate director, Mike Janocik.

Also in attendance was Brad Mattes, executive director of Life Issues Institute, and a former NRLC board member.

The service was celebrated with a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Clare Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati in attendance.

Jack and his wife Barbara, had six children, 22 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. A particularly poignant moment was when the grandchildren and great-grandchildren each carried in a long-stemmed rose as part of the Presentation of Gifts and placed them in a silver vase next to the casket.

Some artists have the wonderful ability to put down, in words and music, the thoughts and feelings of real-life experience, which can be a great comfort to those who may hear or sing the songs years later.

Those kinds of songs were certainly evident at the funeral. Along with “Here I Am, Lord” and “On Eagles’ Wings,” we were blessed by the song “Shepherd Me, O God.” Based on Psalm 23, it has this refrain: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”

The song was a powerful reminder to all in attendance that Jack has joined his beloved Barbara in eternal life.

Jack’s youngest son, Tim, said a few words of remembrance at the close of the service. He said how much Jack missed Barbara, who died in April 2013, after almost 65 years of marriage.

Tim also mentioned that his father was a third generation medical doctor, following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather. (Barbara was a nurse before she became a full-time pro-life educator.)

Jack and I were members together of the NRL Board of Directors for almost 30 years, until he retired from the board in 2012. But my fondest memory of him was in his role as a doctor.

At one of the NRL Conventions, I got a scratch on my foot which became infected. It continued to get worse so, after the closing banquet, as midnight was closing in, a friend reached out to Jack to ask if he would look at my injury.

He came to my hotel room, looked at the foot and immediately instructed my friend to go to the hotel kitchen, ask for a bowl and a lot of salt. He had me soak my foot in salt water and told me to contact a doctor as soon as I reached home. He added that I should walk as little as possible and that when I got to the airport the next day for my return trip home, I should tell the airline I can’t walk and they were to transport me to the plane with a wheelchair.

After a long week and a successful convention, Jack probably had not expected his evening to end in that manner. But he was patient and gracious and I was, and am, thankful.

Jack was an incomparable leader in the pro-life movement. He was one of a kind, first as an educator, later as President of NRLC for a decade, and then as head of the Life Issues Institute.

He spoke and traveled far and wide on behalf of innocent, vulnerable human beings, born and unborn. But he also had a physician’s heart, seeking to help the hurt and wounded wherever he was. I am one that was blessed by that knowledge and compassion.

Our prayers go out to the Willke family as they mourn the loss of their father/grandfather/great-grandfather. He will be missed, but they, like we, are comforted in knowing that he is now eternally reunited with his beloved Barbara.

Categories: Pro-Lifers