SANTA MARIA, California, March 2, 2011 ( – A “pillar of strength” – these were the words Etta Waterfield used to describe her mother-in-law, Jane Russell, who will be remembered by millions as a timeless beauty and talented actress of the silver screen.


But according to Waterfield, Jane’s true legacy lies in her deep devotion to the Bible as a born-again Christian, and her tenacity living out that faith as a pro-life advocate following a tragic botched abortion at the age of eighteen.

“Mom was to the world a movie star, but her passion was for the children. Her passion was for pro-life,” Waterfield told in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, two days after Russell passed away of respiratory failure in her Santa Maria home at the age of 89.

Russell’s story began in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California where she grew up as the eldest and only girl in a deeply Christian family of five children. The loss of a child – Jane’s older brother, who died at 18 months old – was what inspired her own mother’s zeal for reading the Bible, a hunger she passed on to her daughter.

The death of a child would also later exert a powerful effect on Jane’s life: when the eighteen-year-old star was already well on her way to a successful career in film, an illegal abortion took the life of her unborn child, and left her unable to bear children ever again.

According to Waterfield, the young Jane already “felt horrible” about the moral evil committed in the abortion, which was so badly botched she nearly died. “She knew it was wrong,” she said. “But she as a young teenager, she felt she was trapped and her career starting to take off, and it was an inconvenience, and she thought that was the best solution, knowing all along that it wasn’t.”

But it was because of the open arms of her own mother, Geraldine, that Jane was encouraged to “let the Lord figure out” how to turn the experience to good.

“Grandma Russell was by her side after she had the abortion and she said, ‘Daughter, the Lord will turn this around for good if you allow him to work in your life. There is no condemnation from Him, nor will there be any condemnation from our lips either,’” said Waterfield.

Jane carried on, she said, bearing courageously the responsibility of an abortion that wound up giving her “a heart for children,” particularly those who were difficult to place in adoptions, such as older and disabled children. Russell was to found the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF) in 1955. According to Waterfield, through Russell’s efforts at adoption advocacy, she helped find a place for over 40,000 children in permanent homes who may otherwise never have found them.

And despite losing her fertility, she became “mom” and “grandma” to many: having adopted three children, she left behind six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren at her passing. In particular, Waterfield said, Russell was passionate about using her fame as a well-loved actress to open the word of God to others.

“She made a mistake, but she is the perfect example of what the Bible says: what Satan has meant for bad, God will turn around for good if you allow him to work in your life,” said Waterfield. “That’s Mom right there: those thousands of children – that abortion turned into a blessing.”

Waterfield, who ran for the California State Assembly as a conservative Republican candidate, said that she was largely inspired by Jane’s zeal for conservative social issues, particularly for the pro-life movement, something she laments has gotten almost no media recognition. “Media will never put that out there because it’s politically incorrect to them,” said Waterfield. “But you get her one on one, or on a stage … and she’ll tell you different. She was never afraid of talking about it.

“There are so many people that have had abortions that are so ashamed of it, and carry that burden. It doesn’t have to be a burden.”

As Russell lay on her deathbed, Waterfield said that she rejoiced to think of the meeting that lay in store for her.

“I whispered in her ear and said, ‘Mom, now you can hold your baby for the first time. You’ll be able to see your baby,” she said, tearing up. “And you know, I just wish I could see that reunion. Because of that baby, she was able to do so much for children.

“That’s her legacy: it’s not Hollywood, it’s the children. That’s how I want the world to know her.”