Requiescat in Pace: Toni Gras

linkedinI am just home from Nativity celebrations on the East Coast and opened my email after four days away from the Internet. There was some good news; a dear friend and his wife in western Illinois have recovered from serious illness with her cancer officially in remission. And there was some hard news. A woman in the UK I met while at St Andrews who has been caring for her father for years wrote me to ask for prayers for his peaceful repose. He died that night.

orlandoThat was a shock but the real blow, because I had never met my English friend’s father, was reading a note from David Gras that said his wife, Toni, was on her deathbed and asking for my prayers. Toni’s condition was well known in the Potter Pundit community because she and her family are so dear to all of us who have met them. Her death on Orthodox Nativity was still a great surprise to me. We had exchanged notes in November about Emily’s aside in her post about the Chestnut Hill Conference that Toni had been missed and sending all our best wishes and prayers for Toni’s complete recovery from cancer.

It was the latest in more than 300 email conversations I have had with Toni and David since we met more than ten years ago. I have been to their home, eaten meals with them and daughter Courtney at conferences from San Francisco to Toronto to Orlando, they even put me up one night at their hotel in Boston when I found myself at the first Leaky Con without a place to lay my head. These conferences will never be the same for me.

chcLike me, David had been, if not a Harry Hater, then at least pretty cold on the subject of the Boy Who Lived. We also shared a similar conversion experience through which we became serious readers of Rowling’s work and public speakers about the Christian content of the Hogwarts Saga. David, Toni, and their daughter, Courtney, became regulars at Harry Potter conferences where David was a presenter and Toni was a correspondent for ‘Harry Potter Fan Zone.’ It is hard for me to think of an HPEF Conference, Leaky Con, MISTI-Con, or Chestnut Hill College gathering at which the Grases were not present and we did not catch-up, share a meal, and talk about all we were thinking.

More than once, Toni and David saved me by stepping in to take money from conference audiences that wanted to buy books and have me sign them. And a conference was never really a done deal until we gathered for a photo taken with Toni’s camera. The most recent Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Conference was declared “unofficial” by a few of us that have been to all but one or all of those wonderful gatherings because Toni’s illness kept her away this past year.

courtney-1As much as I feel her death as a loss, I can only imagine what David and Courtney are feeling today. Courtney Gras, whom I met as a very young woman, a high school girl whose intelligence and savvy were her parents’ pride and joy, has become an accomplished engineer and award winning public speaker and entrepreneur (read about her here). The imagination she brings to clean energy problems, the magic really that she creates, I know is a function not only of her native gifts and application but also of her mother’s care that daughter Courtney’s sense of wonder and possibility were never limited.

David and Toni almost always traveled together. As often as I saw them, I know they attended many other conferences to which I was not invited or could not attend. They shared an earnest and easy evangelical faith in Christ which, while never intrusive or judgmental, was always inviting and challenging to those who were strangers to a life of praise and worship as well as to those who are also believers. Toni Gras’s love for her husband and daughter, her understanding at depth of the Potter novels and the fandom, and her generosity with anyone and everyone she met meant seeing her again was a highlight of every gathering she attended.

infinitusDavid and Courtney, thank you for all you did to care for Toni in her illness. Thank you for sharing your time with your wife and mother with us on your vacation trips of the last decade. Thank you for becoming the very special, remarkable people you are, people whose vision and brilliance Toni knew before anyone else and did all she could to foster and support. Thank you in advance for continuing to be the man and woman she loved so we can continue to see in you the light that shone in her and onto us.

Our condolences to you and your faith community, our prayers for her peaceful repose in the Lord and for your consolation in your grief, and our thanks to God for letting us know Him better for our time spent with his servant and child Toni. Memory Eternal.

Comments

  1. David James says:

    John, your kind words and faithful inspirational tribute to Toni, the love of my life, touched my heart and soul. Thank you for your support to us all in getting us started into the world of Harry Potter and being a special brother in the Faith for all these years.
    Toni was ill most of this year but she insisted that I speak at Mythgard and LeakyCon this year. She believed in the purpose of our message through the many conferences. In the true message J K Rowling gave us in Harry’s journey…Love conquers death….Love is the greatest magic. Toni loved her Lord and life to the fullest.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful article. I’m so sorry for your loss and that of her family. I share her faith, so I am thankful her physical suffering is over, but my thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends as you grieve her loss on this earth.

  3. Emily Strand says:

    I so wish I could have met her. I take comfort in knowing I will, someday, when we are all gathered together in the communion of saints. Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord… and may perpetual light shine upon her. My deepest condolences to David and Courtney.

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