Published April 07, 2010 10:31 pm - Bart Gaffney, chair of Champlain Valley Right to Life since 1993, is remembered for passion and dedication for all life.
Area abortion foe eulogized
Bart Gaffney called 'a giant, literally and figuratively'
By DAN HEATH
PLATTSBURGH — Anti-abortion supporters remember Bart Gaffney as a towering figure for the movement in the North Country.
Gaffney, co-chair of Champlain Valley Right to Life since 1993 with his wife, Wanda, died Tuesday. He was 80.
Dr. John Middleton, who founded Champlain Valley Right to Life with his wife, Claire, in 1971, said he first met Gaffney in 1990.
"In 1990, I invited Bart to go with me to the State Catholic Conference in Albany. That seemed to ignite him, and he never stopped after that," Middleton said. "He was so energized and so active. He was a marvel."
He said Gaffney was a constant presence at the weekly prayer vigils at Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York in Plattsburgh, making the drive from Jay regardless of the weather.
"I used to marvel. He wouldn't even wear a hat," Middleton said.
He said even numerous illnesses didn't slow Gaffney, who continued to attend the vigils until near the very end.
"Bart was not afraid to stand up to anybody," Middleton said. "He was a giant, literally and figuratively. He wouldn't let anything stop him."
Clinton County Legislator Sam Trombley (R-Area 2, Ellenburg) has known the Gaffneys since the beginning of the local Right to Life movement.
"This is a tremendous loss," Trombley said Wednesday.
"Bart was a great pro-lifer. I don't know how we are going to replace him."
Trombley said Gaffney was extremely dedicated to his cause.
"He never gave up. Even when he got criticized, he took it well and stuck with it."
The Gaffneys would often visit Trombley's home when they were in the Ellenburg area.
"They would always stop by and say hello and see how we were doing," Trombley said. "They would talk about all kinds of things, not just pro-life. They were great people to us."
The Gaffneys were able to attract a number of nationally recognized speakers to the organization's March for Life, held each January. One of them was Christopher Slattery, founder and president of Expectant Mother Care FrontLine Pregnancy Centers in the Bronx, who spoke in 2009.
Slattery said the North Country has lost a true champion who respected all life.
"He was obviously a big physical presence, and his leadership in the pro-life movement was exemplary," Slattery said. "He was a great example of a Christian activist and a man of prayer, humility and action with a fierce dedication to the cause."
He said Gaffney was someone who gave his all to his children and grandchildren but also to strangers. He was also a regular at the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
"Those of us who worked with him in Washington will miss his presence," Slattery said.
Karen Smith is one of the people who took over organizing the Bus for Life from Plattsburgh to Washington a few years ago, after the Gaffneys had handled that for years.
"He really believed in the cause of life," she said. "I think he was a really strong person who stood up for what he believed, no matter what the cost."
Smith said she believes Gaffney has saved numerous lives over the years because of his willingness to discuss options for women facing a difficult decision when pregnant.
Gaffney's stature made it easy to pick him out at any anti-abortion event, such as the March for Life, Life Chain and Stations of the Cross prayer vigil on Good Friday in front of Planned Parenthood.
"It was very odd to be there and not see him there," Smith said. "Since then, he has passed away, so it's even more sad."
Smith said she and others have been worried about who will fill Gaffney's shoes ever since he became ill.
"He was such a strong leader in the Plattsburgh community and such a strong face for the cause. He was always courageous, and that gave the rest of us courage."