The memorial service for Joseph Ramirez was not sad. It wasn’t a place for silent mourning. It was the opposite. It was a celebration of a life that deserved recognition.
If his name isn’t familiar to you, there’s a good chance you’ve seen him at his usual post outside of Starbucks on High Street selling newspapers. Rain or shine, he was there. Every. Single. Day.
Ramirez died of natural causes Dec. 22, 2017, an unexpected shock to friends and those whose lives were touched by Ramirez. They gathered Thursday night to share stories, memories and to simply talk about “Brother Joseph” and the impact he had on the world.
The Round Meeting Room in the Union was lined with chairs. A podium stood in the center next to a blown-up picture of Ramirez surrounded by candles and flowers, a wreath and his favorite black gloves. The crowd was about 16 at first, but quickly grew to more than 60. People of all different ages, ethnicities, professions, backgrounds and walks of life were showing their support.
Chris McConaughy organized the memorial. He had been Ramirez’s best friend for about nine years, ever since he was a student at Ohio State. He began by speaking about Ramirez’s past, filling in the gaps for those of us who knew him as a familiar face, not his story.
Born June 27, 1968, and raised in Chicago, Ramirez was one of 11 brothers. He grew up in the foster care system from about age 7 or 8 and was a father figure to his brothers. He married young, at 19 years old, and had two sons with a woman whom he deeply loved.
But after the two divorced, Ramirez went through a rough patch. After a bout of depression and substance abuse, Ramirez followed his brother to Columbus in his late 20s and started a new life. McConaughy said this was important to know about Ramirez — that he triumphed over his time of darkness.
Ramirez was a force to be reckoned with in the restaurant business. At one point he had three jobs on top of being a manager at Bob Evans. However, Ramirez suffered from glaucoma and was legally blind, the reason he unfortunately had to leave his job.
Ramirez later discovered Street Speech, a program under the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless. The publication was created to address the issues of homelessness, such as affordable housing, employment and quality healthcare. The newspaper provides a voice to homeless men and women, as well as their advocates.
McConaughy said he wanted to expel the misconception that Ramirez was homeless. Rather, he was an advocate for the homeless. He did have a few short seasons of not having a place to stay, but for the most part Ramirez lived in an apartment he paid for with his money from Street Speech. He loved what he did, he worked hard and he was damn proud of it.
Beyond that, he loved being in the Ohio State community. He loved the people and cherished the company every day.
“He actually cared about us,” McConaughy said. “He remembered our faces, he remembered our stories and he’d look forward to the next time he’d see us.”
McConaughy opened the floor for anyone to share a story or memory they had with Ramirez. One by one, people stood at the podium and conveyed the aura of positivity, generosity, integrity, humor, kindness, faith, open-handedness, dignity, love and radiance that surrounded the man that was Joseph Ramirez.
One story stood out –– that of a young girl, about 8 or 9 years old, and her father. He explained that they were homeless four years ago, and everytime Ramirez saw them, he gave them his money. His daughter remembered every time he’d placed a dollar in her hand, asked her how she was, asked her about school and genuinely wanted to make sure she was OK.
“He always was so nice and generous,” she said. “He was always concerned about me.”
One professor who spoke said through their conversations with him, they learned Ramirez regularly went to the Faith Mission to serve meals to the women and children who stayed there. She began taking the long route to her car just so she could say hi and speak to him every day.
“I’d go that way on purpose,” she said.
The mother of a former Ohio State student spoke on behalf of her daughter, and told the room how Ramirez made her time here worth it. When she was rejected from the journalism program Ramirez urged her not to give up and to keep working hard. She’s now the editor of a magazine in New York City.
“She learned more in an hour than she did in a lifetime after talking to [Ramirez] for the first time,” she said.
“Don’t give up,” he’d say. “Be happy everyday. Life is worth it.”
A street preacher told a story about a time Ramirez literally took the shoes off his feet and gave them to him as a gift. A brand new pair of Reeboks, without a thought he gave them to his friend.
“He had that Jesus feel about him,” he said.
A woman that struggled with addiction and depression recounted the numerous times seeing Ramirez’s smile simply got her through the day.
“He was my favorite part of my darkest days,” she said. “The most beautiful part of this scary world we live in.”
A doctoral candidate from South Korea said Ramirez didn’t care he was a stranger. When he was discouraged with his research, stressed and struggling with the challenges of being in a foreign place, Ramirez was the friend that got him through it.
“He gave me a great hope not to give up,” he said.
The pastor of Ramirez’s church couldn’t help but laugh at Ramirez’s ability to outshine him every service.
“He shared more about Jesus just by showing up than I ever could. His faith was unparalleled,” he said.
Joseph Ramirez’s impact didn’t end on Dec. 22. Through the lives he touched and the friends he made, he will not be forgotten. It will be strange not seeing him in his normal spot every day. It will seem much quieter without his voice greeting every person that passed by. Campus will feel a little more empty.
The memorial came to an end after two hours of celebrating his life with everyone singing “Amazing Grace.” It was a fitting end, because after all, the memorial for Joseph Ramirez was not sad.