Sheri O'Dell, 62, a women's rights activist who in 1989 organized what was then the largest abortion rights demonstration ever staged in Washington, died Sept. 25 of lung cancer at her home in Takoma Park.
Ms. O'Dell, as action vice president for the National Organization for Women, directed the April 1989 March for Women's Lives that drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to Washington. Seven months later, she led a follow-up rally that, although half the size of the previous one, attracted 300,000 participants, supporters said. She previously had put together a traveling caravan of activists who journeyed to a dozen states, organizing opposition to antiabortion laws and ballot initiatives.
A firebrand organizer who was president of West Virginia NOW, Ms. O'Dell worked in journalism and government before turning full time to national advocacy work. She ran for her NOW position on tickets led by presidential candidates Eleanor Smeal and Molly Yard and was proud that she was the top vote-getter in both elections.
"In a world marked by far too much complacency and protection of the status quo, Sheri is a passionate, intense voice of outrage and concern," Roger Craver, of the public interest firm Craver, Matthews, Smith and Co., where Ms. O'Dell worked for the past 15 years, said in an e-mail. "To the uninitiated, her down home West Virginia drawl may briefly mask the incisive and quick mind of a crusader. But only briefly -- because when Sheri gets rolling, the rights and wrongs of the world come vividly alive through her Technicolor language."
She was born in Charleston, W.Va., graduated from the University of West Virginia and worked as a newspaper reporter in Hollywood, Fla., and in her home town. She received a master's degree in communications from Marshall University in the mid-1970s and worked on public relations for the former Morris Harvey College for several years before becoming a speechwriter for West Virginia governor John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV. Rockefeller later appointed her head of the communications division of the Governor's Office of Economic and Community Development.
She moved to the Washington area in 1985 to work for NOW and quickly became an integral part of the national feminist leadership. She helped lead NOW's opposition to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. In 1995, she was among the 35,000 women who attended the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in China.
In 1990, she joined Craver, Matthews, Smith and Co. as a senior writer and creative strategist, and she wrote direct-mail solicitations for the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Brady Center and Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence, NOW and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Ms. O'Dell volunteered by writing fundraising letters for Covenant House of Charleston. She rooted vociferously for West Virginia college football and the Pittsburgh Steelers, attended the ballet and Irish music concerts and immersed herself in World War II history. She humbled her friends in games of Trivial Pursuit.
Survivors include her partner of 23 years, Janet Chapin of Silver Spring; a sister; and a brother.