Anne Nicol Gaylor, the outspoken founder of the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, has died at age 88, the foundation said Monday.
Gaylor died just before midnight Sunday following complications from a May 30 fall in her apartment, the foundation wrote on its website.
Gaylor co-founded the atheist and agnostic awareness group in 1976 along with her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor. The elder Gaylor served as president until 2004.
“She was incredibly gentle and fierce at the same time,” Annie Laurie Gaylor said of her mother, whom she said wasn’t afraid of being unpopular. “She created a cognitive dissonance in a good way.”
The group has grown to be the largest of its kind in the country, frequently filing lawsuits defending the separation of church and state. The group also puts up a display each holiday season in the Wisconsin state Capitol celebrating atheism.
Gaylor also co-founded the Women’s Medical Fund, an abortion rights charity that has served more than 20,000 Wisconsin women.
Gaylor was born Lucie Anne Nicol on November 25, 1926, in Tomah, Wisconsin. She married Paul J. Gaylor in 1949. He died in 2011. Gaylor is survived by the couple’s four children – Andrew, Ian, Annie Laurie and Jamie as well as their two granddaughters Sabrina Gaylor and Lily Gaylor. She also is survived by her brother, Tom Nichol.
There will be no memorial service held for Gaylor, at her request. Her daughter said Gaylor’s tombstone will read, “Feminist – activist – freethinker.” The younger Gaylor also said her mother said she believed that when she died she wouldn’t pass on to an afterlife.
“She knew that when she died, she died. That’s it. It wasn’t passing,” Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “She would read this quote from Bertrand Russell that said, ‘When I die I shall rot.’ And she said that makes life more precious.”