Remembering Madilyn Grisham

Grisham and Mati Gralinski, a friend and travel buddy, on one of their adventures.

Haley Simpkins

In early December, UK students celebrated the end of the semester and headed home for the holidays. But for the friends and family of Madilyn Taylor Grisham, grief has replaced the season’s typical joy following Grisham’s death in a Lexington shooting on Dec. 1.

Grisham, 20, was one of three victims found on the scene when police arrived in response to a 911 call.

Following her death, friends and acquaintances left comments on a GoFundMe dedicated to funeral expenses, recalling how they met Grisham and sending prayers to the family.

While it’s impossible to capture Grisham’s entire personality in writing, Grisham’s friends and family want to share their memories of her to make sure people know who Madilyn was beyond a sensational headline. She was a daughter, a friend, a student, a traveller and a million other things that make her loved and remembered by many.

Grisham’s death struck as family and friends scattered for the holiday season.  Devan Colberg, a recent UK grad, shared her memories of spending Christmas with Grisham when they lived together the previous two years.

“We probably had one of the most Christmas-decorated apartments in all of Lexington. We had signs and decorations all over the walls, holly-berry garland in the kitchen, multiple mini decorated Christmas trees throughout the apartment, and our big Christmas tree in our living room, perfectly decorated with plenty of presents for our friends at the bottom,” Colberg said. “It was always so much fun to decorate with her and make Pillsbury holiday cookies and hot chocolate when we were done.”

Grisham was a junior communications major and graduate of Lafayette High School. She participated in cheer when she was younger and worked at a local smoothie shop.

She is survived by her parents, Kristina Grisham and Kevin Michaux, two brothers and grandparents.

Sara Hargis, one of Grisham’s childhood friends, described Grisham as “the type of person I feel like everyone should aspire to be.”

Hargis has known Grisham for 14 years, since Grisham was the first to speak to her after Hargis moved to her school in second grade. From that point on, the two became childhood best friends.

Hargis said her memories of Grisham were filled with fun childhood adventures like chasing snakes and planning dance routines to their favorite early 2000s childhood hits. Hargis shared one of the memories that she felt spoke most closely to the kind, genuine type of person that Grisham was.

After Hargis experienced a loss, a few friends including Grisham came over to stay with Hargis and comfort her. When all the guests fell asleep, Hargis found herself overwhelmed and decided to sneak out to the living room in the middle of the night.

“A couple minutes go by and [Madilyn] comes out of the room, and it was like she woke up and just knew. She didn’t say a word, just sat down on the floor next to me and stayed there with me the rest of the night,” Hargis said. “It was exactly what I needed and even though it’s something that seems so small, it meant the world to me.”

This small example of compassion and kindness was just one of the countless examples provided by friends and family that speak to Grisham’s loving character.

Friends said Grisham always be singing and dancing no matter where she went, bringing her positive energy and light everywhere she went.

“She knew exactly how to make everyone feel beautiful and great about themselves,” said Morgan Stinnett, a lifelong friend of Grisham’s.  “If you were sad, she always knew how to put a smile on your face. She honestly lit up mine and so many others lives.”

Another life lit up by Grisham is that of Quint McDonald, a UK junior, civil engineering major and close friend of Grisham’s. After inviting Grisham to a date party their freshman year, the two became extremely close and talked every day since then, McDonald said.

“You could never be upset around her cause she just wouldn’t allow it and would cheer you up instantly,” McDonald said. “She even used to bring me pancakes to cheer me up when I would be studying all night at the library during finals.”

McDonald said Grisham’s kindness not only applied to friends but even strangers.

“Madilyn was the only person I have met that could walk up to a stranger and have them laughing their ass off a minute later. She was also the most caring person that I’ve met. Whenever anyone was upset or crying, even if it was a stranger she had never talked to, she would always walk up to them and see if she could help them out,” McDonald said.

Friends said Grishman brought a sense of fun and excitement to everything.

Kayla Oppelt, another one of Grisham’s best friends and a junior public health major at UK, spent most of the COVID-19 lockdown with Grisham – but Grisham made their quarantine anything but boring.

“We painted all day everyday, played outside with chalk and bubbles, played board games, did yard work, we had so much fun. We never had a dull moment,” Oppelt said.

Grisham was also known for her sense of adventure.

Sydney Robinson, one of Grisham’s best friends and a junior communication major at UK, said Grisham made her feel so alive and free every time she was around her. Robinson said Grisham carried this love of adventure and life into everything she did, but especially in her love for travel.

“Her favorite saying was wanderlust. She had it tattooed on her forearm. It means a strong desire to travel,” Robinson said. “I believe that she is flying high in the sky finally accomplishing this dream, and seeing the world in a different perspective.”

Mati Gralinski, another one of Grisham’s childhood and closest friends, spoke to Grisham’s love for travel when it came to their vacations together.

“You better believe she planned those trips to a capital T, she was determined that we would not have a boring trip,” Gralinski said.

Gralinski and Grisham spent a week on a cruise to the Bahamas and another on a trip to Florida; within those two trips Grisham packed in scuba diving with sea turtles, a dolphin cruise, driving golf carts, hours of shopping and days on the beach.

“There was never a place she didn’t want to visit, she always dreamed of seeing the world and she was determined,” Gralinski said.

Stinnett, a junior nursing major at UK, said she always considered Grisham to be her travel buddy and looked forward to their future trips after the pandemic.

“I remember how excited she was before every trip and how she would pack months before going because she couldn’t wait. We had so many trips planned for next year and I am devastated that she will not be there with me to see the world,” Stinnett said.

Aside from her impact on her friends and family, Grisham also had an impact on UK faculty. Grisham was a communication major at UK and was enrolled in professor Alan DeSantis’s film and culture class last spring.

DeSantis said he could always see the curiosity and passion for learning in Grisham’s responses and interactions in class, even when those in-person interactions were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was clear to me that she had a sincere interest in learning more about culture and discovering her place and perspective in our larger, collective world,” DeSantis said.

Though DeSantis only had Grisham for one class, he said he felt lucky to have gotten to know her during that short time.

“On behalf of the Department of Communication, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Madilyn’s friends and family. She will always have a special place in the heart of our Big Blue Nation here at the University of Kentucky,” DeSantis said.

For those who knew her well, Grisham’s compassion, strength and positivity help them know how to cope with their absence.

“I know she will guide me through the rest of my journey and protect me forever,” Oppelt said. “[…] I know she’s still here with me, I just can’t see her. I now have the most perfect guardian angel.”