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Unforgettable. That would be one of the many unwavering characteristics of Rina Agriss Blair. Mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, all would agree that while she was with us, Rina lived each of her precious 40 years with the utmost of passion and grace. Rina would often say that, “people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” Whether you knew Rina for a lifetime or for only a brief chapter, once Rina had touched your life, things were never quite the same again. While Rina was taken too soon, we are determined to make sure that she remains unforgettable, not just for those of us who knew her, but also for those who will be touched by the legacy she left behind. Here is Rina’s story.
Rina was born on October 16, 1969 in Paramus, NJ. While Rina and her sister Tracy lived with their mother after their parents divorced, their father, Billy remained a strong and constant presence in their lives. Rina spent her youth growing up on ‘the farm’ in New Jersey – a perfect setting for a young person so full of energy and life. She was an avid and competitive athlete and gymnast, even at a young age, which carried throughout her short life, a deep love for all animals, especially horses and dogs, and a passion for the sand, sun and water of the ocean.
After graduating high school in 1988, Rina’s decision to go to college at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina came as a tough transition for both her and her family. Nearly 500 miles from home, Rina found the first few months of college very hard. However, true to her nature, after the first semester Rina stepped out, making friends and enjoying college life. This newfound happiness, though, was short-lived. After returning to school from winter break, she received the tragic news that her sister, Tracy, had been killed in an automobile accident. Losing Tracy was a devastating blow, and one that changed all of those who knew and loved Tracy. Faced with this heartbreaking experience; Rina pulled from the depths of her soul to continue school, as Tracy would have wanted her to do. Back at school, her friends rallied around her. Many of these friends – those who knew her in the best and worst of times – remained close for the rest of her life. In the aftermath of such a loss, Rina adopted some of Tracy’s best qualities, making them uniquely her own. She also channeled her own strength to take on the care of love of her beloved younger sister, Christina.
Rina graduated from Belmont Abbey College in 1994 with a degree in Business Management (Marketing?). Rina lived in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, where she first began her career in the hospitality industry, working as a hotel sales manager. Rina strove to succeed in business with an insatiable desire for success and independence. From Savannah, Rina followed her love for the sun and the sand to the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas. She claimed the Caribbean as her ‘true north,’ even as her career took her back to the states. She first traveled back to Atlanta, and then to Charleston, SC at Kiawah Island Resorts as the director of sales, and finally to San Diego at the Hotel Del Coronado as a national sales manager. As Rina built her resume and experience with the hotel industry, her entrepreneurial spirit kept shining through. In 1998, her sister Christina joined her in San Diego. With her sister close by, Rina was finally ready to venture out on her own. Rina founded Classic Meetings, Inc. in 1999, her own meeting and conference planning company, was born.
While Rina made some wonderful friends on the west coast, she was missing her friends and family back east. She and Christina decided to make the move back east to Charleston, SC. Around the same time, Rina reconnected with an old boyfriend, Doug Blair. Even though she was a perpetual planner, carefully plotting her every move, Rina gave in to her spirit of seizing the day, and made no hesitation, when she and Doug found each other this time. With the seeds of success in the hotel business already planted, Doug’s love and support added the perfect amount of sunlight and water to help Rina grow. Classic Meetings Inc. flourished and Rina shined both personally and professionally. Soon after Rina and Doug were married, they welcomed to the world their daughter, Reyla Marie Blair, on July 10, 2001. Becoming a mother to Reyla was Rina’s most proud and cherished moment. Rina, Doug and Reyla built a truly beautiful life in Charleston. The next years were spent raising her family and growing her business. Any time off she had was spent with her family, and ‘family of friends’, traveling (often to the Caribbean – with her ‘Island Family’), reading, spending time on their boat, and enjoying life to the fullest.
The summer of 2003 brought unimagined tragedy to the peace Rina had found, with a diagnosis of malignant melanoma. In the words of a close friend, “Rina is not a fighter, she’s a brawler.” Being the fighter that she was, Rina fought cancer head-on, never giving up and willing to try anything that might work. Throughout all of her surgeries and treatments, Rina kept on fighting, and Rina fought her final battle with grace, courage and an uncompromising sense of humor. She often quoted Maya Angelou, “Surviving is important, thriving is elegant.” She did thrive, and she basked in the love and support of so many incredible friends and family members. In her unforgettable elegance, Rina shined..
Rina was always laughing, her smile lighting up the room. She gave of herself, maintaining strong friendships and connections with so many people that touched her life along the way. She saw the best in everyone, did everything she could to bring that out and make it shine, demanding and inspiring those closest to her to be the best we could be. Thank you, thank you, thank you Rina – for sharing your spirit, your love of life, your courage and grace, and for openly and honestly sharing your life and adventures with all of us. We will take and harbor these unforgettable pieces of you that you’ve left, treasure and keep them and in turn pass them along to all of those that we love, so that you may live forever..