Students on the campus of the University of Central Missouri held a vigil in support of Charlotteville, Virginia last night. Over fifty students, staff, and community friends attended.
….our mission to to stand together as a campus community against hate, injustice, and bigotry; and give our families an opportunity to express and share messages of hope, love, and healing.
Join the Warrensburg and Springfield Missouri Organized Student Alliance as we come together to promote peace and justice on our campuses and within our community! Let us not remain silent during times such as this….
Messages of hope:
University of Central Missouri President Chuck Ambrose with students at the vigil.
Vicky Riback Wilson (left) and Missouri State Representative Mary Still (center).
Missouri State Representative Mary Still:…I think it demonstrates something that we all need to hear. That very good people, religious people, have a need of these services that were provided by this doctor.
And, we have today crossed the line as far as I’m concerned. A good man was shot dead in a church. They crossed a line. And we must learn how to cope with that, how to understand it, and what sense that we must make. And, my observation is that words matter. Things that people say matter.
And I have been in the state legislature now for four months. And I have seen the words used. And I have seen the discussion. And it’s guns, and it’s God, and it’s abortion. And the way these issues are framed for political gain and at the expense of the general common good is shameful.
And this incident demonstrates all three.
Abortion, guns, and God. And a good man has been killed in church. Apparently, a deranged man, a mentally ill person, has perhaps heard these words. We can’t blame a certain party or a certain element for, for, because one person is deranged. But we can acknowledge that what we say, especially people in positions of power, can have influence on people and influence on someone who might be mentally unstable.
So, at this time I want to weigh my words because I am outraged. But I want and pray that we can use this as an opportunity to know that violence is not the answer. And to find the common ground on these flash point issues so that we can continue as a state to move forward and continue to recognize that very good people, very well-meaning people may disagree on this issue, but we must find a common ground. And it’s not violence….
….former Missouri State Representative Vicky Riback Wilson: …We’ve heard tonight from people who had the privilege of knowing Dr. Tiller personally. We’ve heard from people who feel strongly about issues that are important in our society. My guess is, however, that there is a different and unique motivation, and a complex motivation, for each of you and each of us who came here tonight.
Most of us didn’t know Dr. Tiller. Most of us, if you’re anything like me, had never even heard of Dr. Tiller, even though I was active, in this area. But the complexity of emotions, I think, that brought each of us here typifies the complexities of the issues that surround, not only reproductive health in our society, but as Representative Still said, all, the whole complex of issues that are brought together around this one event.
We come not just to pay honor to Dr. Tiller, we also come with renewed fervor for making sure that reproductive health is protected, especially and most importantly for those families who have children who are desperately wanted and through some terrible misfortune the pregnancy goes horribly wrong. And they’re left now in our society with very few choices and very few physicians willing to provide the necessary services.
We come here because we worry about gun violence. And people who can pull out a gun and shoot someone, particularly, in a church, a protected and sacred setting. And we come here because we need a protected place to have our voices heard. And be able to speak safely about all of this turmoil of emotions that have been brought to the fore when an event like this happens, mile away, to someone we don’t know, but that so deeply touches things that each of us hold dear and in which we believe.
Tonight is the reminder for all of us, not only to stand together, but to stand separately as we talk to elected officials, as we talk to newspaper people, as we talk to the media, and, perhaps most importantly, as we talk to our friends. We’ve cloaked ourselves in fear about expressing how we really feel about these key issues far too often. Now is the time to take this opportunity to discuss the issues and the feelings surrounding this type of event, so that perhaps it will not happen again…
Phillip Wood, from Columbia, spoke of his family’s personal experience with Dr. George Tiller:
Phillip Wood:…I can think of three reasons why I’m very happy to be here tonight. One, is when our lives have been touched by greatness. We are the richer for that. And secondly, I think that George Tiller did a lot for my family at a point when we really needed a lot. And third, if you knew George Tiller, he would have wanted it that way.
I found out about the murder and I ran downstairs to the Internet and found the address of, of the church that he was at…and found the web site and sent a brief note. I want to read you just a few things about that in about a minute.
But, in the three, four days that I knew George Tiller he was not what I expected. By the time that we were going to terminate the pregnancy, and we’re in Wichita, Kansas, I kept thinking an abortion clinic was going to be kind of a cross between a hospital and a funeral home. I wasn’t ready for this loud, happy, and energetic man, who told terrible, corny jokes. But, I found out later he’s a Lutheran, so that’s kind of an occupational hazard. [laughter]
I did write a few notes to the members of the congregation at Reformation Lutheran, and I wanted to share those with you today… “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ at reformation Lutheran Church, I am a member of St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri. I have only hours ago learned of the tragedy in your church. I am saddened at the violent loss of your church member, George Tiller….”
Phillip Wood in the glare of the video lights.
“…He [garbled] personal care which my wife and I received at his clinic. I am aware that the topic of reproductive rights has been a controversial topic within your church, and hope that sharing our experiences with Dr. Tiller may help provide some solace and affirmation of his commitment to his patients.”
In brief, my wife and I were unable to conceive after our first child, and even sought fertility treatments to have a second child. We were overjoyed to learn that my wife was pregnant with twin boys. But, sadly, late in our pregnancy, learned that the twins suffered from a condition called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome…in which the blood of one twin becomes transfused with the blood of the other twin. This is a condition that occurs about thirty per cent of twin pregnancies, and in our case, it was a threatening condition to the viability of the twins.
We first sought, of course, to save both twins. And then, we sought treatment in Florida to try to save the life of one twin by tying off the umbilical cord of the other. Unfortunately when we got there we found out that amniotic [garbled] had occurred and the twins were in such a state the pregnancy had [garbled]. As other people who are professional in this area can tell you, no one walks in the door and says, “We need to terminate this pregnancy right now because something’s going to happen.” They say things like, “It is possible that the condition may pose a risk to your ability to conceive in the future.”
Long story short. We drove from Florida to Granite City, east of St. Louis where we were told that well, “One of the twin’s head is a little too large to perform that service here,” and we were referred to Wichita.
I was really uncertain what to do in a situation like this as a husband. But Dr. Tiller asked me to take part in all stages of the termination of the pregnancy. I will spare you the details of the security procedures, of the protesters, of the video cameras, the surveillance cameras everywhere. I will share with you, though, the one thing that struck me on coming into the clinic, was after you went through the sort of airport security thing, you came into this room. It was covered with pictures. Framed pictures. Framed letters. Of people who had said, “Thank you Dr. Tiller…” Some of the pictures were of children. “You know, we went on, we had another kid. And here’s a picture of this beautiful child…”
…After the twins were delivered, I went with my wife back to the bed and was with her. And Dr. Tiller came and said, “Would you like to see your boys now?” And I said, “Okay.” And I went into the room. And he had wrapped them up in little baby blankets…and he said, “In these situations, usually we perform a service.” If you can kind of picture him, this was kind of how he talked, he was very loud. And I said, “That’ll be nice.”
…And then said, “If you like, take some time with them.” And I remember unwrapping the blanket a bit and, holding up the hand of one of them and watching it kind of curl around my finger. And I looked up, and, Dr. Tiller was kind of wiping away a few tears, just for a very brief, and he turned away. He was very professional. And I opened my mouth to say something. He smiled and said, “It’s okay, take all the time you need.” And he left. And I took all the time I needed to say goodbye…
…We went back to Iowa, had a funeral for them. And began the slow process of recovery. A couple of weeks after that I was surprised to get an envelope in the mail from the clinic. It was a white envelope, inside that envelope was another envelope. And it said, had the words, “dignity, compassion” and “respect” on it. When I opened that up, inside Dr. Tiller had taped pictures of our brothers…Now, that meant a great deal.
I’m telling you this story about him because it contrasts so much with the loud bedside manner that he had. “I believe that you at Reformation Lutheran have lost a selfless and dedicated health care professional. And someone who did the best he knew how to serve others with thoughtless devotion.”
In the past years I’ve had to listen to Dr. Tiller’s problems on the news. And ,”Oh, I ought to write him a letter.” But, you know, I never did. I wish…I had.
I have testified a bit to the Missouri Senate here and some people have said, “How can you do that?” And I believe I’m trying to do that to pass along the [garbled] measure the care and compassion I have been shown during our experiences with Dr. Tiller and the other health care professionals we worked with. “My prayers are with you and the body of Christ in Reformation Lutheran Church during this difficult time. If you feel others can be helped by sharing this note, please feel free to do so. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. If there’s any way I can help your congregation navigate this difficult time of grief, reaction, feeling and, recommitment to compassion, so exemplified by Dr. Tiller, please let me know.”
Sean Spence, a Columbia area activist, spoke of his personal experiences with Dr. George Tiller:
Sean Spence:…I’m here tonight for a, for a fairly personal reason. Over, over the course of nineteen ninety-seven, nineteen ninety-eight I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Tiller on political issues in, in Kansas. And I’ve been to that clinic and sat down, many times, over dinner with him and always felt very fortunate to spend time with him.
One of the things…I, I liked about him was his sense of humor. And, and at one point after we’d been together a few times and talked about some fairly weighty issues, as one does in this political world. We, we talked about the time when he was shot. Which was just a few years before, before that. Which was a few years after he had been bombed. This is what we’re talking about. And he said, he said, “Well you know I was shot here.” [indicating forearm] And he said, “People always kind of wonder, ’cause I was in my car, how was I, how was I shot here? And I said, “Well, how were you shot there, Dr. Tiller?” And he said, “Well she came up to the car,” you know, she, this women who’d flown in from Oregon. You know we talk about the rage and the insanity in these things. And to me it’s personified by a woman, flew from Oregon specifically to carry out murder on someone who is doing something he believed in. And he said, “Well she came up to the car and, and I didn’t know, but I knew there was something going on, and I knew that she was just one of the, one of them. And, so I flipped her off.” [laughter] “That was when she pulled the trigger.” [laughter] To me that, that really did say a lot about, about him. Both sides of that.
I want to tell you that I’m a little bit ashamed to be here tonight. It’s a little emotional. And, and the reason is because when…I called…to ask if we were going to be doing anything. And, and then I mentioned that I’d had some fairly personal experiences with Dr. Tiller. And she said, “Would you say something?” And, you know, I, I told her I had to think about it. And, I, I said, “Well, let me, let me think about it and I’ll let you know later today or tomorrow.” And I’m embarrassed. That I, that I had to do that. He’s a controversial man, again, kind of in this world of ours. A man who shouldn’t be controversial. A man who is providing an essential, was providing an essential service for women who needed it in a way most of the women in here will never understand, much less me. I’m certainly never gonna understand. But he was doing something, and he felt it in his heart, in a way that is just incomprehensible. And so to him it was not something that should be controversial and it, and it shouldn’t be. And as I thought about that I was just embarrassed that I didn’t immediately say, “Well yes, let me stand up. Let, let me share my experience and, and my heart on, on this issue.”
Because, you know what, he sure, sure did a lot more than that. You know, every day. Let me tell you what you go through that, in to that, that clinic and it was kind of like, you know, the compound in The Godfather, you know. I mean it was, it was walls and it was, it had to be. Except that it was picketed, you know, all day, every day. There were people who were there all day every day. And he, to get to work, to provide an essential service that very few people in the world were willing to brave the problems to provide, he went there and he did it. And he did it every day. And he did it after his clinic was bombed. And he did it after he was shot. And he did it, and he did it, and he did it, and he stood up.
And it’s the least I can do, stand up and say a few things. And it’s the least all of us can do and, and I think he should be an example for all of us. In every way he’s an example for me. And he’s a reminder that the least we can do, the least every one of us can do, is stand up and talk about what’s right, and talk about what’s in our hearts and do what ever little bit we can. That’s what it means to me…
An outdoor vigil scheduled this evening in Columbia to honor the memory of Dr. George Tiller who was gunned down in his church, allegedly by a disturbed anti-abortion zealot, was brought indoors due to rain and thunderstorms. There were approximately thirty-five individuals in attendance, and an additional ten people representing the press.
A number of individuals spoke of their personal experience with Dr. Tiller – as a family member of a patient in difficult circumstances, as colleagues, and as activists advocating for women’s choice.
As the speakers in turn helped fill out the portrait of Dr. Tiller, he became much less the abstract story – as portrayed by the media and as vilified by those in opposition to him – and assumed his rightful aura as a complex human being, with friends, family, with acts of kindness and humility and caring, working and fighting, sometimes with defiance, for what he believed in.
Constantly dehumanizing someone in life makes it so much easier to ignore or dismiss their death at the hands of another. Learning parts of the story of that person’s humanity after their senseless death makes any attempt at comprehending the insanity of it all impossible.
The program from the vigil:
Honoring the Life and Memory of Dr. George Tiller
August 8, 1941 – May 31, 2009
– – –
Opening Remarks – Michelle Trupiano…
State Representative Mary Still
Vicky Riback Wilson
Closing Remarks -Bonnie Trickey and Helen Anthony…
Dr. Tiller’s murder is an enormous loss for our movement and for women and their families across America. He provided abortions to women late in their pregnancies and under some of the most difficult medical circumstances. Dr. Tiller had been harassed by abortion opponents for much of his career – his clinic was burned down, he was shot in both arms by an abortion protestor, and he was recently targeted for investigation by Phil Kline in Kansas, with a jury acquittal coming just a few months ago. None of this stopped George Tiller from his commitment to providing women and their families with abortion care that others were unwilling to offer.
Michelle Trupiano (left) speaks at the start of the vigil.
Former Missouri State Representative Vicky Riback Wilson (center left), Missouri State Representative Mary Still (center right), Sean Spence (right).