Town remembers tireless fighter
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 1:08 a.m.
Caitlin Huggins, the 17-year-old Gilchrist County girl who was honored by Gov. Jeb Bush when she fulfilled her dream of graduating from high school despite struggling with brain cancer, died Wednesday.
Huggins died at 8:50 p.m. at her home in Bell with friends and family by her side, said her mother, Suzanne Crace. After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2001, Huggins went through several periods of remission until three new tumors were discovered the day before this school year began. Doctors told the family in September she might die within a month.
But Huggins defied all odds and held on, Crace said.
"She had a strong will to live," Crace said in a phone interview from her home. "Her nurses told me they thought I was the reason she hung on so long because she was afraid to leave me," Crace said through her tears. "She'll be remembered by her kindness to others. She never met a person she didn't like and she treated everyone with respect."
"You can't look at Caitlin and not love her," Crace said.
Wearing a purple cap and gown, Huggins shakily walked across the auditorium stage of Bell High School to receive her diploma in a special graduation ceremony in September. She graduated with honors.
Bush and his wife, Columba, attended and praised her accomplishments to a crowd of hundreds of supporters who showered her with applause, flowers and gifts.
"I have the best job in the world," Bush told Huggins, "because I get to meet people like you. This is a remarkable achievement for a remarkable person."
Huggins called that day the "best day of my life."
Her accomplishment created an outpouring of support from across the country in letters, donations and support, guidance counselor and friend Dana Jones said. The family received about $5,000 in donations and used the money to go on several family trips - trips that let Huggins experience life to its fullest in the time she had left, Jones said.
"She had a great spirit," Jones said. "Anybody that truly knew her had their life forever changed."
Jones said news of Huggins' death spread through the school and many students were devastated by the loss. Students made banners that said "Goodbye Caitlin A. Huggins: Amazing, Almighty and Awesome," and "We Love You, Caitlin," Jones said. Throughout her ordeal, Huggins remained strong and fought to make her dreams come true, Jones said.
"Although she was sick for four years, she never questioned it or complained," Jones said. "She knew that beauty came from the inside and she was beautiful both inside and out - she was very special."
Huggins was born in Tampa and moved to Bell five years ago. She received first place in a middle school science fair and lettered in flag at Bell High School. She was a Baptist.
Survivors include her parents, William Crace and Suzanne Crace of Bell; her brother and sister, Michael and Kimberly Crace of Bell; her grandfather, Jerry Huggins of Tampa; and her paternal grandparents, Ester and Harold Crace of Bell.
There will be a memorial service for Huggins at 1 p.m. Feb. 5 at Bell High School.
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 374-5036 or balld@ gvillesun.com.
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