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Local ‘royal’ woman dies

Melissa Grason was crowned Princess of Courage last week

Posted: August 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Melissa Grason, 18, rides in a 1956 convertible Ford T-Bird as hundreds line Skycrest Circle Drive in Valencia on Aug. 4 in her honor. View a video of last week's parade on

Melissa Grason, the 18-year-old with Down syndrome who inspired hundreds to come out for a parade earlier this month and help her realize a dream, has died.

Grason, who was diagnosed with Stage IV Wilms’ tumor in 2010, died late Monday.

“It was a blessing because it was quick and relatively painless,” said Jim Grason, Melissa’s father. “She was at home in her bed, I was on one side and her and Mom was on the other.”

Melissa’s story caught the attention of the community after friends helped spread the word about a dream she had to be a princess.

The parade, which drew hundreds, and her crowning as Princess of Courage were all put together in a matter of weeks because of Melissa’s condition.

“The doctors had given her less than 90 days to live,” Jim Grason said. “We were surprised it was only a couple of weeks later.”

Friends of the family, such as Mark Latner, who drove Melissa around town in his classic Thunderbird, were joined by hundreds of spectators who lined the street, many wearing pink, Melissa’s favorite color.

“She always talked about getting married,” said Latner, who has a 25-year-old son with Down syndrome. “I asked her if she was going to get married to (Latner’s son) Ryan, and she said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘Because he’s too old,’” Latner said.

Last week’s ride through town meant the world to Melissa because she loved to be the center of attention, said Jackie Hartmann, whose daughter danced in a group with the young woman.

“The parade was especially emotional for everyone,” Hartmann said.

As the Thunderbird made a final turn to embark on the parade route, Melissa saw the crowd gathered, but it didn’t quite register initially.

“We said, ‘This is all for you because everybody loves you,’” Hartmann said.

Melissa’s mouth dropped open in response. “For me?” she asked.

And then she smiled and gave the princess wave.

“And she was waving like she was the princess for the day,” Latner said, “because she was.”

Jim and Marianne Grason said they would like to hold a celebration of life for Melissa next Saturday, and they are currently looking for a venue.

They plan to scatter Melissa’s ashes in Boca Raton, Fla., on a parasailing trip. Melissa was born in Boca Raton, and parasailing was one of her favorite things to do.


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