Melissa Wandall fills her days helping local grieving families navigate life after loss, and ensuring traffic safety for commuters throughout America’s roads.
Photo by Wyatt Kostygan
BY BRITTANY MATTIE – Originally Published in SRQ Magazine
Widowed suddenly at nine months pregnant, Melissa Wandall became a single mom to her first child while simultaneously grieving her late husband, Mark Wandall. After a tragic car crash that Mark and Melissa’s brother found themselves in one night in Sarasota in 2003—her brother surviving, her husband not—Melissa had to pull together every being in her body to keep going for her newborn daughter. “We all have the choice not just to survive in life, but to thrive in life,” she says. “Out of heartache and from the wreckage, my voice became consistent and focused. Being an advocate has helped me to build something new and strong for my family.
My purpose is to equip, uplift and resource individuals and organizations. Melissa founded The Mark Wandall Foundation in memory of her late husband—who was a humanitarian at heart himself—which not only supports fellow families in grief from losing a loved one but serves as a tribute to Mark and Melissa’s daughter, Madisyn Grace, who was born just two weeks after her father’s fatal crash. The nonprofit, founded in 2004, affords provisions, financial assistance and emotional support to grieving children and teens who have lost a primary family member or guardian. In addition to her commitment to her nonprofit, Melissa serves as the president for the National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR)—working to change highway safety and reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by traffic collisions, road violence and auto-related tragedies due to speeding, red-light running and disobeying road signs or passing laws.
“My husband’s life was taken in a ‘crash,’ not an ‘accident.’ I’ve worked really hard to change this word, as this was not an accident such as spilled milk,” she explains. “99% of car crashes are preventable. They are due to inattentive drivers—most often who have already caused crashes and/or make daily decisions to ignore safety laws that will seriously injure, harm and kill others.”
Before COVID-19 hit, Melissa traveled the U.S. extensively, as well as internationally, to speak to audiences on the subject. She is also recognized with a high level of respect and admiration throughout the local community for utilizing the tragedy in her life for the greater good—including losing her younger sister to a rare cancer when she was a child herself. Her personal life story dealing with more death than the average person at her age has become an inspiring springboard to effect positive change for others. “I am most content when I am being of service to others,” Melissa shares. “My life feels deep and meaningful when my voice and actions serve a multitude of people and purposes. Being of service to others has helped me emotionally thrive during the shattered moments of my life.”