Heather Stilwell's death leaves pro-lifers mourning nationwide
By Laureen McMahon
The B.C. Catholic
Breast cancer has claimed the life of Surrey pro-life activist Heather Stilwell.
While probably best known as the Surrey School Board member who led a battle to keep gay-friendly books out of the elementary schools, Stilwell, who died on Dec. 4 at the age of 66, was a hero to many in the Canadian pro-life movement because of her tireless crusades for over 30 years to promote the sanctity of life.
When she made a trip to the International Pro-Life Conference in Ottawa last Nov. 3 to receive LifeCanada's annual Mother Teresa Award, she was honoured with a standing ovation by hundreds of delegates as one of the country's major pro-life leaders.
Although obviously in frail health she proudly declared, "I will fight abortion until the day I die."
Monica Roddis, Life Canada's Acting President, presented the award. "I think for many her name stands with the beginning of the pro-life movement in Canada," she said.
Also on hand for the ceremony was Jim Hughes, the national president of Campaign Life Coalition, who praised Stilwell for being "a tremendous fighter." Her dogged determination, he said, was fuelled by her solid religious faith. "It was wonderful to see her honoured in that way."
Stilwell, whose funeral Mass was offered at Precious Blood Church in Cloverdale on Dec. 9, is being saluted by leaders in B.C.'s pro-life organizations. John Hof, of Campaign Life Coalition British Columbia, called her "a truly remarkable and courageous defender of life, marriage, family, and our Christian heritage." She was, he added, an inspiration, for her courage in speaking out for the truth while showing the "spirit of compassion and love for all, including those who opposed her views."
Stilwell served as president of Alliance for Life, a national pro-life educational group, where she produced Feel the Heartbeat, a widely-circulated documentary which profiled young and pregnant women and adoptive parents.
She was president of the Surrey-Delta Pro-Life Association, and encouraged pro-life candidates to run for the hospital board. She also served as the president of the Pro-Life Society of B.C., was the Western Regional Coordinator for Campaign Life Coalition, and an active member of Real Women.
During her 15 years on the Surrey school board, Stilwell remained outspoken against homosexuality and abortion and championed the call for sex education to remain in the hands of parents rather than schools.
When she and other Surrey School Board members voted not to approve three children's books which portrayed the lifestyle of same-sex parents as acceptable, the decision was fought by same-sex advocates who took it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. There it was overturned by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
Stilwell was a founding member of the Christian Heritage Party in 1984 and served on the board of an adoption agency. She stepped down from her position on the Surrey School Board when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2008.
"I don't remember the pro-life movement without Heather," said Michele Smillie, coordinator of the Respect Life office. "She worked tirelessly in the public square to protect and defend life and to protect and defend the family. She lived her faith."
Stilwell and her husband Bill recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. She also leaves to mourn eight children and their families.