On Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, Dr. Jack Willke passed into a world where abortions do not take place. He and his wife Barbara are regarded as the parents of the pro-life movement. Their Handbook on Abortion and the later, Abortion: Questions and Answers, have been translated into 32 languages.
It has been said that when a person who has enjoyed a rich and generous life passes away, he or she should inspire expressions of gratitude rather than grief. Jack Willke was nearly 90 when he died, and his work has benefitted millions. His death does, indeed, sadden me, but it also brings back some happy memories.
It was 1972, and Dr. Jack Willke was coming to Kitchener, Ontario. I was chosen to interview him on our local television station. On the night prior to the telecast, a philosopher friend and I pored through pro-abortion literature in search of the dumbest reasons we could find that supported the pro-abortion cause. I wanted Dr. Willke to look good (and the other side to look bad). When he arrived at the studio, I was already seated on the set, so we did not have a chance to exchange either pleasantries or identities. A few pro-abortion advocates sat in the audience, eager to hear how the interview would go. I don’t think I’d needed to go the extra mile to make my guest look good. He sparkled, with his kind demeanor and razor-sharp mind. What I did not expect, however, is that the ombudsmen in the audience thought that I looked good.
Consequently, they wanted to recruit me to appear in a program that promoted their pro-abortion view. This surprising invitation took me completely off stride.
Convinced that I was ignorant on the issue, the kindly doctor armed me with pictures of aborted fetuses, and a great deal of pertinent literature. Still, at that point, I had not shown my hand. I welcomed his concern and generosity and I knew that I could keep this going as long as he saw me as convertible. A couple of years later, my first book came out: Abortion in Perspective: The Rose Palace or the Fiery Furnace. It included much of the valuable information the good doctor had prescribed for me.
After the show, I drove Dr. Willke and his wife to my house where my wife had prepared a lasagna lunch. En route, I said something which I like to think was clever, but has forever slipped from my memory bank. Whatever I said worked and my distinguished guest expressed relief that he did not have to dine with people who were not on the side of life. He did not say the word “kooks,” but that is how I read his mind. Now he could look forward to digesting a meal comfortably without worrying about the peculiar moral views of his hosts.
My daughter, Jocelyn, was four years young at the time. Jack sat her on his knee, whereupon she sang, without the slightest sign of self-consciousness the “Evening Prayer” from Hansel and Gretel (“When at night I go to bed/Fourteen Angels watch my head.”). This, of course, is the most popular aria ever composed by the possessor of the most comical and cumbersome name in all operatic literature – Engelbert Humperdinck. Jack was more than charmed. Could he have imagined at that time that this beguiling songstress would now have four little songstresses of her own?
That moment of unexpected music is a cherished memory. Looking back, it was a kind of passing of the torch. Dr. Willke was also Father Willke. This time, he was an audience of one. He had doffed the teacher’s hat and was happy to be serenaded by a four-year-old. Too bad that this homey episode was not played before the camera.
Dr. Jack Willke will surely be missed, but his memory lingers on, and his legacy is firmly established. I like to think that as he entered the pearly gates, he was serenaded once again, this time by 14 angels.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest work, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad, is available through Amazon.com.