There is a mystery in Palm Valley; one that doesn’t involve ghosts of bootleggers or moonshiners. Every day, thousands of people drive down Palm Valley Road past the Ponte Vedra Valley Cemetery, blissfully unaware of the mystery that lurks inside.
Perhaps ‘lurks’ is too strong a word. It is not spooky or creepy like most mysteries. Still, a tomb inside the mausoleum troubles some who have seen it. It belongs to Grace Hayes. For many years, Grace was the editor of the Ponte Vedra Recorder. Her name became synonymous with the publication and is still beloved by some local writers.
I am one of those writers. I first met Grace in 2006, when I was introduced to her by a Recorder employee at the time, Sean Johnson. Sean was tall and handsome with a full head of thick black hair. He came from Mississippi and looked like he had just stepped out of a John Grisham novel. Sean had read some of my work online and thought I would be a good addition to the Recorder.
Grace agreed. She gave me a chance. I was soon receiving regular emails from her reminding me that I had a column due. “It’s that time of the month,” she would write.
It turns out, I was not the only person Grace inspired. Maggie FitzRoy, author of several books, remembers that Grace gave her a chance to prove herself as well. Maggie was working as a photographer for the paper but wanted to do more. When Grace appeared one day as the new editor, Maggie told Grace she wanted to write, too. In her typically no-nonsense way, Grace told her: “Then do it!” Fittingly, Maggie now holds down Grace’s old editor’s desk at the paper.
Grace Hayes remained a pillar of the community for two decades. Ponte Vedra Beach Internist Ronald “Doc” Renuart recalls, “Grace was involved in everything.”
So much so, that since her death, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce has honored her by awarding the “Grace Hayes Award” to its most valuable Ponte Vedra Ambassador.
Many people remember Grace as being tough, but fair and determined. Sean Johnson remembers her as a savvy early adopter. “She told me Twitter was going to be big and urged me to get my name as a handle before it was gone,” he told me.
Grace passed away in 2009.
Several years ago, I was suffering from writer’s block. I went out to Ponte Vedra Valley to visit Grace. I stood in front of her mausoleum and talked to her. She told me I had “a deadline.” Chills went down my spine. Maybe it was just my imagination. But that is exactly what Grace would have said. Other people who have heard my story have been moved by it, including Publisher Susan Griffin, who continues the tradition of leadership at the Recorder.
Now, back to the mystery: The word divine is misspelled on Grace’s gravestone. It is spelled ’Devine,’ like a name. It’s capitalized, like all the words in the phrase below her name: No one seems to know why. Grace was an editor. It was her job to correct spelling errors.
I knew Grace and I can tell you this: the word fits her, no matter how it is spelled. Grace lived a purposeful life. She did things with intent.
Her intent was always good and often powerful.
So maybe she’s winking at us from beyond the grave.
Scott A. Grant is a local author and historian. By day he runs Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. He has written off and on for the Recorder since 2006.