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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 55  |  July 10, 2020


Friends remember Laguna legend Daisy Mae Messer; community mourns the flower lady 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Daisy Mae Messer is described by her friends as the darling of the neighborhood, fiercely independent, a hero, unbelievably courageous, and to all who knew her, a Laguna legend. But only when one hears Daisy’s story – gleaned from her documentary and those who knew her best – can one fathom the true depth of her courage.

These reflections on her life from her Laguna friends, who she called “the family she finally found,” offer a tribute to this amazing woman they adored and revered.

Jay Grant, Pastor of Church by the Sea and former board president of the Sawdust Festival where Daisy was an exhibitor, writes, “Daisy Mae Messer, beloved by so many in Laguna, a fixture in our community for over 50 years, and a close personal friend of mine for most of that time, passed into heaven on Sunday, June 21 at Saddleback Hospital. She was 73 years old, born on September 11, 1947.”

Friends remember cat

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Doug Miller

Daisy on July 9, 1989 with her favorite cat “Sir Winston,” who she had for 18 years. Daisy took that cat everywhere with her. Another cat’s name was Sugar.

Jay, who was Daisy’s pastor for many years, says, “Daisy was one of the most courageous women I have ever known. Stricken as a child with polio, and wheelchair-bound the rest of her life, Daisy never allowed her challenges to get her down. For years, you would see her everywhere in town, one of her beloved dogs at her side and often a cat riding in her lap. She lived alone in her Laguna Canyon Cottage, as independent as she could be.”

A gifted artist, Daisy created cards, made incense, and sold flowers to make a living. Moving through town in her wheelchair, she would drop off her creations at a number of different businesses throughout town.

As detailed by Daisy in Jack Major’s 2009 video documentary Daisy, she suffered an unimaginable and horrific childhood. Daisy Mae Blossom Messer was born in Framingham, Mass. After living with her abusive father, she was sent to an orphanage and then to a series of foster homes. At six, she contracted polio – possibly from swimming in a contaminated lake – and at Boston City Hospital was confined to an iron lung and then to a wheelchair. During that critical first night at the hospital, she had a spiritual experience that altered her life. “No one can tell me that there’s no afterlife,” she said. Eventually, after enduring further abuse at a foster home, she lived on the streets for three years. “That’s when I found out how cold and cruel the world that we live in is.” 

Friends remember house

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Courtesy of Jay Grant

Daisy’s Laguna Canyon Cottage on Victory Walk 

Thirty years ago, Daisy appointed Jane Fulton of Seaside Legal Services, a nonprofit public interest law firm, as her legal representative. “The first time she came to see me in her wheelchair – my office is upstairs – she just opened the door and yelled up from the bottom,” says Jane. “We loved her.

“Daisy was very smart. People sometimes gave her short shrift because she was in a wheelchair, but she attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge. Back then if the parents failed, those stricken with polio went into foster care, and after she aged out, she found a program in Massachusetts that helped kids who were smart enough to go to college, and she was smart. She was a terrific woman and even had romance in her life – she was married a long time ago.” 

According to Jane, one of the creations she freely gave away were letters from God that she wrote – signed God’s name – and kept in her pocket. “You can see things from the perspective of a wheelchair other people don’t see. When she came across someone who appeared distraught, she’d take one out and say, ‘You’re having a bad day, this just came for you.’ She always had letters from God in her pocket.”

Friends remember umbrella

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Courtesy of Doug Miller

Daisy Mae by the Sawdust Festival on June 25, 1991

Later on in life, Seaside Legal Services always assisted Daisy when the veterinarian bills for the dogs and cat became overwhelming. As for her animals, Trinity will go back to the guide dog foundation, but Jane says that a home is needed for Daisy’s cat.

“What’s most impressive is that although she was severely handicapped, she lived on her own before social security by selling at the Sawdust Festival,” Jane says. “She was fiercely independent and did so much with so little and never complained. Even a week ago, she was still full of piss and vinegar.” 

Jane credits Daisy’s close friend Bob Koch, project manager for Public Works for the City of Laguna Beach, with being there for her so much of the time as well as at the end, so she wouldn’t be alone.

Bob says, “I met Daisy in 2013. It was late one hot summer day, and she had just finished up her deliveries on her flower route. I was downtown and said hello to her in passing and we struck up a conversation. She asked me if I would help her and push her the length of the long city parking lot because she was out of energy that day due to the heat. I obliged and we became friends after that conversation time together. 

“Daisy was fiercely independent and was always determined to do things on her own whenever she could. She liked things to be neat and tidy and even though she was wheelchair-bound and past the age of 70, she continued to vacuum and wash and wax the floors in her home by herself making them look spotless.” 

Friends remember flowers

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Photo by Beth Major

Daisy with the flowers she loved, September 2019

Daisy also continued selling flower bouquets and homemade incenses to downtown restaurants and businesses right up to the point where she physically did not have the strength to push herself around anymore. 

“Daisy had an inner spark that was infectious to most people that knew her. She was a straight talker and you always knew where she stood on an issue. She could speak so straight and bluntly sometimes it would set people back on their heels if they didn’t know her well,” Bob says. “But once people realized not to take that personally, everyone could see she had a heart of gold and was a kind, generous, and loving person. 

“If you spent any length of time talking to Daisy she inevitably offered up details of her life story, which unfortunately, had been very harrowing at times. But Daisy was a survivor and she possessed an amazing positive attitude despite her circumstances.” 

Bob was once asked who his hero was in life. He replied, “Daisy Mae is my hero. Despite being in a wheelchair, she always had a sparkle in her eyes, had nothing but a great attitude about life, and was a light to everyone she encountered.”

Friends remember birthday

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Courtesy of Jay Grant

Daisy’s 70th birthday party. Jay (in the white shirt) says, “The dog in the photo is Rosie – Daisy’s most beloved dog of all time. The dog would actually pull Daisy in her wheelchair, even uphill. He was a fantastic dog. Rosie died a year ago. Her most recent dog was named Trinity.” (Laguna Beach Seniors helped her find her service dogs.)

On the occasion of her 70th birthday, at which time her admirers presented her with a substantial check, she said, “I want to say how grateful and how loved I felt with all my friends and neighbors who came to celebrate my 70 years as a pilgrim passing on through. God bless you all!” 

Artist Donita Lloyd, a close friend and neighbor, remembers Daisy this way: “Daisy never gave up. She always persevered no matter what, rarely complained, and stood for her faith. I am going to really miss her.”

In her documentary, Daisy said, “Because I gave my heart and soul to Jesus, he said, ‘if you believe and trust in me, things will be added unto you.’

“God has done so much for me. The people in Laguna Beach have taken me in and loved me and cared for me and gave me a beautiful dog that I love very much. I’m grateful to everybody. The people in Laguna are wonderful.”

Friends remember dog

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Courtesy of Doug Miller

Daisy Mae Messer, Frontage Road at the Sawdust on July 19, 1974

“Daisy loved the Lord and loved to talk to people about her faith,” says Bob. “She told me she did not want anyone to feel sad after her passing, but to celebrate that she is now free from the prison of her wheelchair that she had spent most of her life in, and that you can now find her running, skipping, and dancing with God in Heaven.”

Jay relates a similar conversation. “Daisy’s faith was the most important thing in her life. She talked about Jesus to anyone who would listen and she used to say, ‘Don’t cry for me after I’m gone because I’m going to be free. I will be with my Savior.’

“She was stricken with polio at around six years of age, and in an iron lung, then in a wheelchair,” he says. “But she remembered skipping as a child. She would say when she got to heaven, the very first thing she wanted to do was skip.”

I imagine that is the way her friends would like to picture her now.

To view the documentary Daisy, click here.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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