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Hurricane Hearts: How Two Students Found Love and a Life-Saving Community at GSW

Many young college students dream of finding lasting love and lifelong friendships during their college years – and that’s the story for Theo and Lakinia [Watts] Ramsey. The two had no intention of having a romantic relationship with one another at first. They were close friends, travel companions, and a source of transportation for each other to visit their respective families in Columbus and Desoto over the holidays.

“It was me, Theo, and Rashid [Castle-Ali],” says Lakinia, “We were the Three Musketeers.” They did everything together including camping out for concerts and taking road trips.”

The three friends met when they started at GSW in 1996, and Theo and Lakinia ended up in the same political science class. “Theo was involved in everything,” recalls Lakinia, “and he would drag me along saying, ‘sign up for this,’ and I would say, ‘but I don’t want to,’ and he would insist…so I signed up.”

Lakinia joined Theo on the Campus Activities Board, the Student Government Association (Theo was president from 1997-2000), and she was also a member of the Honors Society. Theo was a tough act to follow though. He also served as President of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, was a member of the Student African-American Brotherhood (SABU), the Zephyr Recruitment Team and was named GSW’s first Homecoming King (1997) as well as Mr. Southwestern for two years in a row (1997-1998).

“It was a supportive community, especially as a person of color,” says Theo, who forged deep bonds with many of the alumni and staff at GSW, including history professor, Dr. Harold Isaacs, whom he still calls his “godfather.” “Dr. Isaacs gave us a holistic view of history, not just Eurocentric; he taught history as it relates to black people.”

Theo’s student leadership was not limited to on-campus activities alone; it extended into the Americus community, where he worked with the NAACP and Habitat for Humanity.

While away from Lakinia on a trip to Mexico with Habitat, Theo had an epiphany of sorts, realizing that he and Lakinia were meant to be more than friends. He wrote her a three-page letter declaring his love for her, which became a turning point in their relationship. “I knew that Theo was the first person who I had ever felt safe with,” Lakinia says when asked about the letter. “Even now, [21 years later], he’s my place of safety and security.”

The couple began dating in 1998, and shortly after, Theo started noticing some unusual symptoms developing in his legs. He was shocked when, a year later, doctors diagnosed him with lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys and other vital organs.

Despite a hospitalization for lung issues in 2000, Theo graduated with a bachelor's degree alongside Lakinia in 2001, and both decided to stay on at GSW to pursue their MBAs.

As Theo’s health condition worsened over time, Lakinia stood by him through multiple hospitalizations, dialysis and life support - as did the GSW community. Mary Wysochansky, then GSW nurse practitioner, helped Theo find medicine when he didn’t have insurance. “She was our angel at that school,” says Lakinia.

During one health scare, three hospital waiting rooms in Columbus, Ga., were filled with supportive GSW students, staff and professors. Hospital staff thought they were all visiting a well-known politician, but Lakinia clarified: “Nope, it’s just Theo!”

In July 2002, Theo and Lakinia were married on GSW’s campus on the patio of the Marshall Student Center, a combined effort of several key supportive GSW staff. Pamela Christmas-Leverett, the Ramsey-designated “GSW Mom,” arranged the wedding along with GSW Campus Police Chief Oris Bryant. Karl Wilson, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity advisor, officiated the ceremony. “In our minds, it was the only place,” said Lakinia. “It was a real GSW effort.”

Perhaps the best example of the depth of friendship and brotherhood forged at GSW came in 2004, when Theo was facing total kidney failure and in need of a transplant. Rashid Castle-Ali, Theo and Lakinia’s friend who road-tripped with them in their early days of college, donated his kidney to Theo. “Rashid’s kidney was such a perfect match for me that the doctors thought we were related,” Theo says with a smile.

19 years later, Theo and Rashid are still close friends.

The Ramseys have enjoyed over two decades of marriage, full of sweet success and some heartbreaking loss as well. Despite continued health challenges, Theo has thrived in his career in the tech industry and Lakinia in management. The two have traveled extensively and enjoy visiting with family and their wide circle of friends in Austin, Tex. Along the way, they have had to say goodbye to Theo’s twin sisters, two aunts and an uncle, all of whom died of complications from lupus. Theo’s mom, as well as a third aunt, died of Diabetes.

Theo and Lakinia have faced both triumph and tragedy together. Their enduring love and friendship is evident in the kindness they show one another, the way they brag about each others’ accomplishments, and most importantly, in how they enjoy life together.

The Ramseys returned to GSW in 2014 and spoke at the annual MLK Convocation together, and to this day they remain involved with the GSW community through alumni events.

Theo expresses unending gratitude for the life-saving community he and Lakinia found at GSW, which has served to help them focus on what really matters. “We really love our family because of all we’ve been through, so we come home a lot…not only for baby showers or holidays, but whenever we can come home to be with family, we do it. We wake up every day, thankful to be alive and looking for opportunities to celebrate life. We love to have fun and we’re gonna enjoy every single day we get.”