MONROE, Conn. — Television personality Nancy Grace was studying Shakespeare in college and happily planning her wedding to classmate Keith Griffin in 1979, when fate shook her world.
On an August night in her native Georgia, a gunman killed Griffin, shooting him five times in the face, neck, head and back. Her daydreams of being an English professor, wife and mother vanished.
“His world ended and my world exploded,” Grace, the prosecutor-turned-TV legal analyst, told those gathered at the Speaking of Women luncheon at The Waterview on Tuesday. “It felt like the world had stopped spinning and I got off.”
Grace was the keynote speaker for the 19th annual luncheon, a fundraiser for the Bridgeport-based Center for Family Justice. More than 400 people attended the event to support the center, which serves Easton, Bridgeport, Stratford, Monroe, Fairfield and Trumbull.
Cathy Malloy, wife of Gov. Dannel Malloy, was the honorary chair.
It was her early tragedy that led Grace to her new life, she said. She returned to school — this time pursing a law degree — and re-fashioned herself as a tough-as-nails special prosecutor in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
Winning her first case, Grace knew that she was on the right path.
“I knew I had a voice and, boy, did it come out,” she told the crowd.
Soon television executives were taking a look at Grace and she was tapped to co-host Court TV’s “Cochran and Grace” with the late attorney Johnnie Cochran, later moving to CNN Headline News, now HLN, and her prime time show “Nancy Grace.”
Grace has been an outspoken advocate for victims’ rights, having volunteered at an Atlanta-based battered women’s hotline for a decade. She encouraged survivors among the crowd to realize there is life after tragedy.
Grace, who now has 8-year-old twins with her husband, investment banker David Linch, is experiencing life changes herself: In October, she’ll leave HLN and mark the debut of “Haliey Dean Mystery: Murder, With Love,” a Hallmark Movies & Mysteries film based on Grace’s series of novels.
Speaking of life changes, she told the story of a former colleague who took up running to help promote good health and lessen stress after two bouts with cancer. The woman got up the courage to run a 5K race, but showed up so early, she ended up mistakenly running a much-longer race.
She knew it wasn’t what she had signed up for, but she stuck with it and ran a full 10 miles, Grace said, adding the story inspires her to fight for those in need with compassion.
“The place here. The time is now. The person is you!” she said, choking back tears. “Remember, it may not be the race you signed up for, but it is the race you are in so you had better run!”
The Center for Family Justice will hold several area vigils in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To learn more, visit CenterForFamilyJustice.org .