Geline Williams, founding mother of state pro-life movement, turns 100

Geline Williams on Oct. 14, 2016. "Mom was always dressed to the nines," said daughter Gina W. Urban. (Photo/Bob Schnell, Certain Gravity Photography)
General Assembly, family and friends honor Richmond’s Geline Williams


The day a good friend died several years ago, Geline Bowman Williams invited the grieving family to supper. Her daughter, Anne Coupe, recalled talking to her father about this thoughtful gesture. “Your mother always knows the right thing to do,” she remembers him saying.

Family, friends, pro-life activists and Church leaders have long admired and respected the inner strength of this devout Catholic who celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 27. On Feb. 19, the General Assembly passed a joint resolution recognizing Geline as an “active leader for generations in the Roman Catholic community.”

“She is a woman of deep faith and a very persistent person,” said Msgr. William Carr, longtime pastor of Geline’s home parish, St. Bridget, Richmond, before he retired in 2021. “She has been a leader all her life and very proud to be a Catholic.”

Her daughter, Gina Urban, said her mother “has always embodied the courage of her convictions.”

‘Up against a stone wall’

In the late 1960s, Geline was concerned about the movement to loosen restrictions on abortion, and she believed the right thing to do was to find some way to oppose it. In 1967, she and her husband, Alex, formed the Virginia Society for Human Life, the first statewide pro-life organization in the country. At the time, Virginia law only allowed abortion to save the life of the mother.

In 1968, Geline was appointed to a General Assembly committee studying abortion policy. The group’s final report recommended expanding abortion access. She was the only committee member to oppose its recommendations.

“I knew I was up against a stone wall,” she told a reporter several years later. “But I had to participate to the fullest extent I could.” That included helping to organize the National Right to Life Committee, serving as chair of its board from 1981 to 2015.

The Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973 meant pro-life supporters faced years of work lobbying legislatures for limits on abortion and urging its supporters for a change of heart – the kind of work just right for a woman of grace, intellect and determination like Geline Williams.

But it took some time. Virginia approved an informed consent law in 1978, which meant a person could only make a voluntary agreement if they are capable of making that decision; it could not be under any fraud or coercion; and the person must have received a reasonable explanation of the procedure, its possible risks, and available alternatives. Nearly two decades later, Virginia approved a parental notification measure, which would require a parent or guardian be notified before a minor has an abortion.

“When she has a project in mind, she goes after it, she’s clear in communicating, very precise in her words,” said Msgr. Carr. “And very brave. I admire her for that.”

Geline Williams, surrounded by her five children: (front row, left to right) Geline W. Williams, Geline B. Williams, Anne W. Coupe; (back row, left to right) Alexander H. Williams III, Gina W. Urban, Jay K. B. Williams, taken Oct. 14, 2016. (Photo/Bob Schnell, Certain Gravity Photography)

‘Leader with a servant’s soul’

Approved by both the Senate and the House of Delegates, the General Assembly resolution in Geline’s honor praised her as “a dedicated civic leader with a servant’s soul.”

The resolution noted her four terms on Richmond City Council, including one term as mayor of Richmond from 1988 to 1990.

Geline also served two terms on the Virginia Commission on Local Government and has had leadership roles in the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association, United Way, Richmond Catholic Families and Children’s Services, and ChildFund International.

Active in her parish and in the diocese, Geline was president of the Richmond Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and on the board of directors of the McMahon Parater Foundation for Education.

In 1985, Pope St. John Paul II awarded her the highest honor the Holy See can bestow on a lay Catholic, the Benemerenti Medal.

“Over the course of her long and fruitful life, Geline Williams has sought to serve Christ by serving her brothers and sisters throughout Richmond, the Commonwealth, and the nation,” the resolution stated.

Faith and family first

On her Richmond City Council campaign literature, Geline always listed her occupation as “homemaker.”

She is a lifelong resident of Richmond, attending St. Catherine’s School and then enrolling at Goucher College in Maryland. In 1943, she met Alex, and the 19-year-old English major decided the right thing to do was to marry him. Their son, Alex Williams III, came along the next year, joined later by two more sons and two daughters.

All five of her children came from all over the country to Richmond three days before her birthday to celebrate, along with a few close friends. All five are married and have successful careers; Geline has 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“So much of it is the example our parents set,” her daughter, Gina, said. “They did not hold any of us back when we pursued our lives so far away from home.”

“We’re all very close as siblings, and that’s attributable to Mom and Dad, despite the fact that we live all over the country,” her daughter, Anne, said. “A lot of siblings don’t remain close, and a lot of children have a hard time getting along, but Mom and Dad said, ‘No matter what, family is family – and to support your siblings.’”

Anne added that she and her siblings found the Catholic faith “imbued our lives.”

Along with attending Sunday Mass, the children were encouraged to take part in parish life, following the examples of their parents. “They led by example, not just going through the motions, but living the faith and giving back to the community,” Anne said. “All of us, in most ways … still have Catholicism in our lives and find it important.”

Geline’s husband, Alex, died in 1996 at the age of 76. He and Geline were married 53 years.

Geline is now in an assisted living community in Richmond and was unavailable for an interview. Anne says that, overall, her mother has been in good health these past few years – she didn’t give up driving until she was 94.

The founding mother of the state pro-life movement has lived long enough to see the U.S. Supreme Court reverse the Roe v. Wade ruling in 2022 and reject a constitutional right to abortion, something she never doubted would happen one day.

To Geline Williams, it was just the right thing for the high court to do.


Scroll to Top