Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson died this past Friday. She was 84.
Born in Pittsburgh, Texas in 1926, Dr. Jefferson was the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School (’51). She served as a surgeon at Boston University Medical Center and was a professor of surgery at the university’s medical school. She excelled in everything she pursued and ran in pretty high circles while doing it, but her greatest passion was for the very least among us: the unborn child.
As the president of the National Right to Life Committee in the 1970s, Dr. Jefferson practiced what she regularly preached. Looking back on her decision to go into medicine, she said that she “became a physician in order to save lives.”
Little did she know in 1951 that her medical career would afford her the opportunity to do just that as she worked not only to save the lives of children outside the womb, but those not yet born.
She was a woman comfortable both in the moment and in the spotlight, never shying away from the hard questions. When called to testify before Congress, which she did numerous times, she minced no words:
“With the obstetrician and mother becoming the worst enemy of the child and the pediatrician becoming the assassin for the family,” she stated, “the state must be enabled to protect the life of the child, born and unborn.”
Dr. Jefferson knew her career was more of a calling and as such, she wasn’t motivated by money or acclaim. Instead, she was driven by a near singular focus – to help give voice to the voiceless:
“I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live.”
I never had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Jefferson, but many of my colleagues have, and their memories and reflections upon her passing are of consistent positive note.
As just one example of many, Tim Goeglein, who serves as Focus on the Family’s Vice President of External Relations, recalled her composed and godly manner.
I remember her speaking on multiple occasions, and the thing that struck me most was her even-tempered approach to the pro-life cause; she had what doctors and nurses call a gifted bedside manner: Cool, calm, collected. She always spoke with the confidence that she was on the right side of history, and of course she was. A beautiful person. Now she is “up where angels ever sing.”
We extend our sympathies to the family of Dr. Jefferson and thank God for her life and her noble contribution to the enduring cause of the unborn.
I am grateful for those in younger generations who are committed to picking up right where the good doctor left off. This matter of life remains the defining mark of our days. I pray we remain worthy and up to the tasks and challenges at hand.
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