Melissa Lanitis Gregory. In Loving Memory.

February 23, 2016

She loved art, chocolate, red wine, dogs, recycling, her old and new friends, and her community.

But above all, she loved her sons, Griffin and Gordie, and her adoring husband, Alan; and her father.

I met Melissa Lanitis Gregory 20 years ago in South Shore.

We’d run into each other around town, catch up on life and move on. We worked in the small Tahoe advertising/marketing world.  A naturally gifted artist, she struggled with the confinement of graphic design and desired to create art on her own terms.

Mel was a highly educated woman, and grew up in a creative family in the New York City area, drawing pictures inspired by Yellow Submarine, and horses. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a graphic design degree. But the big city life was not for her. Leaving her Assistant Art Director job in New York City for a waitress job in Tahoe seemed like a no-brainer for Mel.  She fit right into our mountain town. Soon she met Alan, and fell in love riding on the back of his motorcycle.

Next came Griffin, followed by Gordie and she home schooled them which gave her time to pursue her art. While teaching them the basics she also exposed her sons to art, literature, music, nature and community service.  Alan provided the outlet for playing in the mountains and took Gordie and Griffin skiing, biking, and backpacking at every opportunity.

Melissa always wanted an art studio.  Alan granted her wish a few years ago, and the Paper Moon Studio came alive.

Melissa was a champion for community; of maintaining a sense of place for South Lake Tahoe. She also yearned for an art community in her home town and believed it was here.  She maintained that it was just buried under all of the skis, bikes and kayaks.

She was involved in several art workshops for children and art fundraisers for the local library or others in need like Stacey. An avid conservationist, she built two full-size thrones (yes thrones) created from toilet paper rolls that won Best of Show at WNCC’s annual Recycled ARTicles show in 2003. A second throne, “Not Throne Away”, benefited the South Lake Tahoe library. And she created “Bear Your Soul”, a blue fiberglass bear featuring a mirrored mosaic at his center, created for the Bears by the Lake event.

After years working in the local graphic design/advertising industry, Melissa was given a book on the art of papier mache, and has been creating unusual pieces ever since.  Clocks. Mixed media pieces. Bowls. Earrings. Even art helmets were made with recycled paper and became her signature “Art with a Recycled Soul”.

Mel had a strong sense of design that complemented her strong sense of style. She loved type. And vocabulary. She would tease me about words like “celebrate” or “special”.

She loved to laugh. Loud and uncontrollably. It made her feel good. And everyone around her.

I ran into Mel again in 2006 and shared my idea for my website, Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture. For hours we discussed the need for one more Tahoe website…but mine would be different. I promised. It would be about our mountain culture; a “special” place to “celebrate” our creativity in whatever expression it manifested, whether on canvas or a mountain or chef’s cutting board.

She loved it.

At that moment she joined the rat race once again. Sort of. I made her my Inspiration Director. I even made her business cards.  It was a no-brainer for me to put Melissa and our mutual friend, Kristen Schwartz, on the masthead of TAMC.

Last summer, I was proud to work with Mel on the Tahoe: Lost & Found project.

Like many she was devastated by the aftermath of the Angora Fire and realized many people were still putting their lives together. Then she learned that the library had lost $2,000 worth of books in the homes that were destroyed in the fire.  She had to do something. She wanted to hold an art show to raise money, and to connect with those folks out in the burn area and the firefighters, to see how they were doing and to let them know we were still thinking of them. She wanted to rekindle the sense of community that we found during the fire, by inspiring all of us to our own ways of giving.

“Tahoe: Lost & Found – Inspired by Fire: Expressions of a Community one year after Angora” unfolded and allowed individuals and businesses to participate.  Soon we had a series of art events, business promotions and a huge art auction on our plates, with 42 pieces of art submitted by 21 artists from around the lake.  The Valhalla Grand Hall, her favorite place, was packed for the final auction.

As we sat in the Paper Moon Studio doing the final accounting eating chocolate and drinking wine, we broke out in laughter; toasted each other and counted again. $2,080.

Besides raising money to replace library books, Tahoe: Lost & Found introduced us to many new friends. Like Yasmin Sayyed, a poet and mixed media artist in South Shore, who wrote the following verse about Melissa:

I loved her mixed media work, masterful designs, playful colours, balanced heart and intellect, urban and rural… They laughed and wept, danced and limped, connected art and social consciousness.

She made art alive and took it to a place that connects the individual, community, and spiritual splendour, and she made being connected with another — the art of uniquely interconnected elegance.

Melissa lost her battle with autoimmune hemolytic anemia on February 24, 2009.

While it is with heavy hearts that we must say goodbye to our dear friend Melissa, we know that we will each find our way to honor her in our daily lives; whether it be through community service, art, inspiring others to follow their passion, laugh out loud, go on a quiet walk with a friend, read a book to a child, or spend an entire day just being.

Alan and the South Lake Tahoe Library have set up a Memorial Fund in Melissa’s name in order to continue to purchase books for the community.  Please make your check donation to “South Lake Tahoe Branch Library” and drop off or mail to 1000 Rufus Allen Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150. As books are purchased, donor names will be imprinted in the books along with, “In Memory of Melissa Lanitis Gregory”.

A memorial service for Melissa will be held in the near future; as well as other events to honor one of South Shore’s and Tahoe’s most influential artists and community members. We will miss her dearly.

In the meantime, please feel free to leave your memories of Mel below. (comments will be added within 24 hours)

Thank you.

30 thoughts on “Melissa Lanitis Gregory. In Loving Memory.

  1. Melissa was a true inspiration as a well as a beautiful person. What a huge huge loss for us all.

  2. I have known Melissa for many years, she did the very first Strategic Marketing Group brochure we ever did. I have it right here in front of me as I type these words. I always knew her to be friendly, fun and easy to work with. A delite to run into in town. In fact I last saw her at the grocery store in line, we chatted about the Angora Fire Fund. Her creativity and art will be sadly missed.

  3. I originally connected with Melissa at a gardening workshop. I thought, “Ooh, this woman is cool!” I went on to discover her amazing artistry, in her creations and in how she lived her life. Thank you, Melissa for sharing your soul with us. Your spirit will live on colorfully in so many of us.
    May Alan, Griffin, and Gordie be supported in Great Love, and find comfort in knowing how well she was loved.

  4. Melissa…
    From what I have connected with, a true vagabond, full of adventure and free will. A spice of cherrie pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top but a place to go. I see her not as a common bird or even a common animal at all but a glimpse of something outrageous like a phoenix or as dorky as it may sound a unicorn. Love and outward truth of expression pumped through that little lady’s veins and the world is better for it. May that beautiful being we have known as Melissa rest in harmony and sing loudly with the angels above. I will miss her.

  5. I am so deeply saddened by the news of Melissa’s passing. Every time I saw her she had a gentle, kind aura happening and colors seemed to swirl around her.Her love for her sons was always eminent.She glowed when she looked at them.To say the world is bettor for her being here, is so very obvious. But what isn’t obvious is how far her energy will travel, how many times it will circle the planet and beyond. Through all the people she talked to and loved, through the people she inspired and laughed with, through her big, open, honest smile, through all her beautiful, fun, colorful creations. We are all blessed for her having been here. Thanks Melissa. Celebrate Life, Ann Thennes

  6. I wish I would have taken more stock in the chance meetings we had in town. Melissa was truly an inspired and inspiring woman whether we were talking art, child rearing, schooling or just about living life. Her passion for it all was very apparent. Her love was large. Her smile, well, they don’t get any bigger. I will never forget her and Alan driving away from their wedding at Strawberry on Harleys. Perfect! Our condolences to Alan, Grif and Gordon and to Melissas family ( you raised a great woman, thank you!). Lets listen to some great celtic music again soon! Love never goes away.

  7. I am shocked an saddened to hear of Melissa’s passing. While I didn’t know her as well as many, I did see the spark, the passion, the creativity and the kind heart of which many of you have spoken. She was truly genuine. My thoughts are with her family during this sad time.

  8. Melissa’s smiles, positive energy and kind heart will be missed. We would talk about prosperity, spirituality, art and Celtic music. She was such a vital and caring part of our community. She has left an enduring legacy but I will miss the wonderful and vibrant woman she is.

  9. Mel was my younger sister’s best friend growing up in NY. We both ended up in CA and when visiting Tahoe in the summer we would spend a day together at the beach with our families. It was always the best kind of day full of fun, food, reminiscing and laughing.
    She was a wonderful person and we will miss her smile. I hope to spend more days at the beach (or on the slopes) with Alan, Griffin and Gordie.
    With love,
    Doug, Phyllis, Sam and Doni



  11. I send my heartfelt blessings to Melissa’s spirit and the remaining family. She brought so much joy to my dear freind, her cousin Wendy. I am grateful for her life even though I never met her.

    Blessings from Big Sur to all family and loved ones!

  12. My wife Marty was a roommate of Mel’s at UVM and I have heard many wonderful stories of their adventures. We were living in South Lake Tahoe, when Mel blew into town, when she met Alan, and when we enjoyed Tahoe. We have not lived in Tahoe for over twenty years, but her fun loving spirit still comes up in conversation. I hope her family finds comfort that she was loved by many, and I look forward to purchasing books in her name.

  13. Melissa and I went to middle and high school together, and reconected at various times thereafter, most recently on facebook a couple of months ago. I am shocked and saddened by her death, and am delighted to read of all of her accomplishments in California – thank you for sharing this.

  14. I met Melissa a long time ago, I think it was at a La Leche League meeting when Griffin was a baby.

    She helped plan a chess club at the library for the homeschool community that some of my children were involved in.

    It was always fun bumping into her at the Farmer’s Market or just around town. She was always encouraging & always had on a beautiful smile 🙂

    I will miss her!

    My thoughts & prayers are with her family.
    May God bring peace & comfort during this time.

  15. Thank you so much for this article about my cherished friend. Melissa’s passing is the kind of thing that prompts you to want to make sure people knew who she was. I’m very proud of her accomplishments and know how much creating the life she had meant to her. Mel was warm, intelligent, creative, informed and all-out funny. She was the person in my life who most encouraged me to be creative. It was what she believed in so strongly. Friends since the second week of college, I can look back and know our 18-year-old selves would have thought that being terrific friends for 30 years would have been a long time; but for our middle-ages selves, it wasn’t nearly enough.

  16. We are deeply saddened by the news of Melissa’s passing. She was a beautiful lady who had done a great job of raising her two wonderful sons. Although Melissa will certainly be missed, we can be thankful to have been blessed by having known her, and by having the Gregory family in our lives.

  17. It is so sad to see someone, who is a truly wonderful person, be taken away from a world that is in so much need of people like her.

  18. Becky: Thankyou so much for writing this beautiful piece on Melissa, I miss her too.

    Melissa was my first artist friend here in Tahoe. She contacted me after reading something I’d written about balance on my site, and asked if she could quote me. We met and instantly connected. She introduced me to most of the artists I know here, and in doing so changed my life. We would meet and talk about art, life, and family. We would watch the outrageous British comedies and James McEvoy films she loved so much, eat chocolate and laugh about all the absurdities of the world. We got each other.

    I’ll miss her a lot, but remember her fondly every time I walk into my studio.

  19. Melissa had a smile that could light up a whole room. She always made you feel good – she was a beautiful woman and a great mother. My love to her family…Melissa will live on in the hearts of so many people she touched through her life and her art. We will miss you, Melissa.

  20. I knew of Melissa for as long as I can remember. We lived parallel lives, she and I, connected by a big brother who had a heart big enough to love us both unconditionally. Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with her. I found her to be a fascinating woman:kind,funny,humble about her art, and adoring of her children. Hearing of her sudden passing is a shock; the thought of her sparkle and talent being gone from this earth brings sadness and heart felt sympathy for her husband,children,family, and friends. I am gratful to have had the chance to get to know her better, and my thoughts and prayers go out to her loved ones and the many people whose lives she touched with her kindness, her passion for her community, and her art.

  21. I will always remember the first time I met Melissa-she taught Amey and me how to make paper in a blender, we had so much fun in her class, and I think of her everytime I see that paper 🙂 It was always a pleasure to see her around town, and I loved her thrones and all the art she shared with our community at the Open Studio Tour- Melissa, we are grateful to you for sharing your talents for the time you were with us…

  22. Melissa…agape meni mou Melissa…my dear Melissa

    You were such a beautiful spirit…

    I enjoyed getting to know you when you took the Greek language course I taught…

    Your name came from “honey” and from “bee”

    A sweet loving soul…

    You shall be missed…

    and please… say hello to Jane for me

    Me agape …with love…


  23. Melissa, you are and always were a beautiful spirit to me. Creative, sharing and full of love-I will always remember you as this. I wish I had known of all the beautiful things you were doing in Tahoe. So I read your blog, every entry and every word and I listened to you and I learned. I know you loved these words:

    “The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.No apologies or excuses.No one to lean on, rely on, or blame.The gift is yours—it is an amazing journey—and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.”

  24. I met Melissa when we were both at UVM and she started working at the same pub as I. I was immediately taken by her warmth and smile. We started dating soon after that and until she left UVM to attend SVA in New York. Thankfully, I have many pictures of those days. Over the years we remained good friends staying in touch as we each moved westward. While living in Los Angeles I visited her in Tahoe and before she met Alan, we had a chance to spend some time together hiking in the southwest along with her dog BJ. When it came time for me to get married, Lynda and I decided Lake Tahoe would be a beautiful place for our friends to gather. Melissa was all too happy to help us plan. In the years that followed, Mel and I remained good friends. I was always her default tech support guy and I will miss those phone calls that start out, ‘Phil, can you help me with my computer…again’. We will miss you, Mel

  25. I will miss you Melissa. I am sadened. You are a truly gifted, gentle and kind human being. You brought joy and inspiration through your art and self. I just got done posting a picture of your wedding day in Strawberry and I was smiling. It feels like yesterday when we spoke of the fire and your feelings on doing something to help. I will miss you Melissa.

  26. Some people come to teach, not necessarily in the narrow confines of the classroom, but rather in the theatre of life. Such is the essence of Melissa Gregory.
    Like a turtle’s armoured shell and tender underbelly, Melissa was resilient and strong as New Yorkers are want to be, and gentle and caring as only interminable vulnerabilities to loving so informs the soul… and the imprint of this teacher-turtle lingers in my being.

  27. It was a delight to be with so many of Melissa’s friends and family at her memorial today. To see the light and love shine from all these beautiful folks when the stories of Melissa were told, reminded me that there is no love, light or creativity lost in this world-it just flows in and thru all life. I feel real blessed to call Melissa my friend. Her hugs, smile and passion are a real inspiration to me. Thanks Alan, Griffin & Gordy for such good “teamwork” that Melissa felt suppported and nourished to do all the “Melissa-work” she wanted to do while she was here.
    Keep up the good work ***Team Gregory***!
    Love & Hugs, Lynn S.

  28. Just as my day was ending, an old song was playing on the radio. It reminded me of Melissa. I thought of that special woman that I dated during my high school years. We had not emailed or spoke on the phone in years. But, none the less, I decided to ‘google’ her and find out how her life was going. With great sadness I immediately learned of Mel’s passing. Mel’s smile would light up a room and her enthusiasm, for whatever project she was working on, was unbearably contagious. My heartfelt condolences go out to Alan, Gordie and Griffin. Melissa was truly a shining light upon the hill. She affected my life in such a positive way through her love (it was puppy love at that time), friendship and kindness.

    Sadly, I write this two years after her death. That is a testament on how she touched the people around her. Even after 30 years, I remember her well. God Bless you, Mel.

  29. Four years ago today, Melissa left us.
    We met in the eighties. So many wonderful memories. I think of her often and I still shake my head in disbelief. We were just hanging out in her studio. Melissa would be so touched, so many people loved her. Miss her dry sense of humor, her unique, artsy ways, a true friend who was always there. Love you, Mel.

Comments are closed.