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True blue: Gene Ramsey remembered for support, generosity

Gene Ramsey, pictured with his wife, Sally, was an avid supporter of local sports teams prior to his death earlier this year. He is remembered for his generosity, kindness and willingness to help others. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County athletics lost an important member of the Blue Devil family earlier this year when long-time supporter Gene Ramsey passed away on March 4.

In addition to being a loving husband to Sally Bradford Ramsey and a devoted father to Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was a mentor and father figure to many athletes that put on the Blue Devil blue and white. He also enjoyed watching his grandsons, Raben and Boone, play sports through the years.

“He was a great supporter of the Blue Devils,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said. “I remember when I was younger he paid for kids on the football team to go to camp when they could not afford it. His help didn’t end there – he helped me get my first summer job when he worked at Hoover Ball in 1974.”

Former Unicoi County High School athletic director and head football coach Doug Cooper remembers Ramsey as a friend and mentor.

“He was like a second father to me,” Cooper said. “While my father was sick, (Gene) made sure I never missed a University of Tennessee game. Some of my favorite memories are going to bowl games with Gene.”

According to Cooper, he and Ramsey made it to every major bowl that Tennessee played in, including the Vols’ 1998 National Championship victory over the Florida State Seminoles at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona on Jan. 4, 1999.

According to Cooper, Ramsey never stopped giving to the UCHS athletic program.

“Not only did he attend every sporting event he could, he was there to help each program financially,” Cooper said. “During my tenure, he never turned down a chance to donate, oftentimes he would donate anonymously.”

Glenn Fisher, who currently serves on the Unicoi County Board of Education and was the head coach of the UCHS Lady Devil basketball program for decades, shared similar experiences with Ramsey.

“It didn’t matter what sport it was, he was always the first to support Unicoi County athletics in any way he could,” Fisher said. “I will always remember him getting chilled watermelons every summer for the football team.”

Ramsey’s giving spirit spilled over from field to field and court to court.

“He would always take care of our athletes in so many different ways, whether it was giving them bookmarkers, encouraging signs for the locker room, buying pizzas, donating money to help or just overall support,” Unicoi County Director of School and former UCHS basketball coach John English said. “You could always count on his support for not only our basketball teams, but Blue Devil sports in general.”

Ramsey offered moral support  in addition to monetary donations.

“He also sponsored the most valuable player award at the high school football banquet for years, but his biggest attribute was encouragement to all the players win or lose,” Evely said. “He was just a great person who always put others first, along with Sally.”

Ramsey provided support for the coaches as well as the athletes.

“We had many great conversations on the phone after big wins or even tough losses back when I coached,” English said. “Those really meant a lot to me then and even more now.”

While Mr. Ramsey’s heart may have bled Blue Devil Blue and white, his love was at home. According to Ramsey’s daughter, Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was just as giving at home. Ramsey said some of her favorite memories with her father was riding down to Greenville to pick up watermelons for the football team.

“He has given those boys watermelons for as long as I have been alive,” Reed said. “I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders at the Tennessee games. Since then I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies at Tennessee, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Reed will miss her father, but Unicoi County will miss one of the most giving individuals to ever reside in the county.

“He was always so supportive of Blue Devil athletics. He absolutely loved pulling for the Big Blue,” English said. “You could always count on seeing him and Sally at games.”

Fisher agreed.

“He will be missed,” Fisher said. “Unicoi County athletics will not be the same.”