Nancy Grace showed the softer side of the woman who made her reputation as the avenging angel of victims of crime.
Grace, whose programs on CNN and Court TV routinely examine the darkest side of crime, spent an evening August 12 charming an audience of nearly 1,000 at UNC Pembroke’s Givens Performing Arts Center. She was the first speaker of the University’s 2006-07 Distinguished Speaker Series.
Grace got standing ovations before and after her performance, and Grace signed autographs and posed for photos after and before her talk.
“She was really great! The best,” said J.C. Worthington, assistant manager of catering. “After eating, she went into the kitchen and everybody got a picture with her.”
Grace charmed the audience with personal stories of growing up in rural Georgia amid “soybean fields and tall pine trees.”
“We knew what city water was, but we had never tasted it,” she quipped.
There is a far more serious side to Grace, who beseeched her audience to “make a difference,” “be a hero” and “stand for something.”
The greatest influence in her life, she said, was the murder of her fiancé, Keith Griffin, before their wedding.
“The world exploded for me,” she said. “The framework of what the world is and what people are changed forever.”
“But the world kept turning, and I decided to go back to school,” Grace said. “I decided to represent victims like myself and Keith’s family.”
A first generation college student, Grace worked 10 years as a prosecutor in Atlanta. Starting with shoplifters, she graduated to high profile murder cases from the city’s crime and drug-infested neighborhoods.
“The courtroom is nasty, dirty and mean,” she said. “Lawyers will do anything whether it is right or wrong.”
The brutal murder of a mentally handicapped woman named Mary was another turning point, Grace said. The prosecutor found the woman’s family living in a small house at the end of a large housing project.
“A woman 6-feet 2 and solid came out of the house. She hugged me so tight my feet came off the ground,” said the diminutive Grace. “She offered me sweet tea in a mason jar.
“I learned that Mary’s mother gave birth to her when she was 13, and she couldn’t have more children,” she said. “She had no money, no education and no hope. She had just one thing – Mary - and they took that.
“That’s how I got to be so mean,” Grace said.
Grace is host of Court TV’s “Nancy Grace: Closing Arguments” and CNN Headline News’ “Nancy Grace.” She regularly rips into attorneys and criminals alike during primetime.
If Grace has grit, she also has a heart. In closing, she recalled a close friend who, after two bouts with breast cancer, thought she got into a three-mile road race that turned out to be a 10-mile race.
“She ran across the finish line with her arms raised in the air,” Grace said. “It may not have been the race she signed up for, but it was the race she was in.
“Hear the call, and at least try to be that hero as long as you can, as hard as you can, wherever you can,” she said. “So run by God!”
UNCP’s Distinguished Speaker Series continues November 2 with comic Mo Rocca; February 15 with poet and activist Nikki Giovanni; March 20 with political commentator Pat Buchanan and April 19 with sports analyst James Brown. All shows are at 7 p.m. and admission is $10.