For My Pal, Luke Ratliff
To everyone hurting:
I’ve struggled to find words over the last couple of days. As have many of you, I’ve had sleeplessness nights and days full of crying. I’ve gathered with friends, shared stories, and even a few laughs as we remember the life and legacy of Luke Ratliff.
I first met Luke at an Alabama basketball game last March. I was honestly so starstruck as I had been following him on Twitter for several months at the point. I was almost nervous to be introduced by mutual friends, but I had no need to be. I was embraced immediately with his open arms and jolly laugh, a laugh that continues to play over and over in my mind.
As the game went on, I watched him lead the student section with his many clever chants and hand gestures. I remember thinking to myself, the power he holds. Everyone in the crowd followed his every move. He was a natural born leader, the best of any kind. He was just so easy to be around.
I went to a few more games throughout the season, and every time he remembered who I was. Again, I was completely shocked. I lived in Atlanta, so the only time I saw him was the few times I was at games. After every game, I would make the drive back home and couldn’t help the sinking feeling. The community I was leaving behind and sense of belonging at those basketball games is something I still very strongly feel. I told myself, one day I will move to Tuscaloosa.
About six months later, I packed up all my stuff and told my friends and family goodbye. I transferred with my job, found a roommate, and moved to Tuscaloosa. Throughout the next few months, I had the pleasure of meeting Reagan Starner, the owner of R&R Cigars. It was through Reagan I got even closer to Luke. Luke loved his cigars and regularly stopped by R&R to hang out. As I previously described, Luke was a friend to everyone, but his relationship with Reagan was different. Anyone with eyes could see they were the best of pals. Luke genuinely loved Reagan and his wife, Leslie. They were his home away from home.
In a recent interview on The Game with Ryan Fowler, Reagan recounts his first memory of meeting Luke. Starner says that Luke was so excited when he found out there was a cigar shop in Tuscaloosa. He told his dad that they had to stop by during their first visit to town. Starner went on to say that Luke become a regular on Sundays to watch Cowboy’s games at the mansion. As time went on, the pair talked more and more to become close friends.
“He was the best of the best.” Starner states. He shared stories of how Luke would stay over until the early hours of the morning talking about anything and everything. Reagan knew Luke, for Luke. He was more than just an Alabama superfan. Reagan continues, “He was my buddy. He was always giving. He had a huge heart. He would do anything and everything for his friends.”
This I can also attest to. I spent many nights with Reagan and Luke as well as a few others. We were the pals. Luke loved to cook. He would cook us meals on the blackstone on the front porch, we would hang around the fire pits, we would laugh until we cried. These memories are forever engraved in my mind.
Monday night, Reagan hosted a get-together at R&R Cigars to honor Luke. It was a beautiful time. An anonymous donor paid for everyone to have a Budweiser in Luke’s honor. That was his favorite beer and he took every opportunity to let you know that Budweiser really was the king of beers. With beers in hand, we sat on the porch for hours going in a circle sharing our favorite stories and memories of Luke. Tears were shed, laughs were had, and hugs were shared.
To everyone hurting, let us relish in these memories and may they never die. Let us carry on the legacy of living like Luke. Let us all be kind to one another, invite people in with open arms, and continue to share stories of how our lives were touched.
To Pam and Brian, I love you. My heart aches for you. I cannot thank you enough for the man you raised. As we’ve all seen over the last few days, he touched so many people in so many ways.
To Reagan and Leslie, thank you for all that you’ve done for Luke and the community. Thank you for opening your hearts, sharing stories, and letting us gather together.
To anyone and everyone, we will get through and I am here for you.
Rest in Peace my pal, Cameron Luke Ratliff.