Ryan's Story

Ryan Whitaker’s Younger Years

Written by his loving mother, Paula Whitaker

Ryan’s life began on December 18, 1981 on the coldest day of the year in 1981. He was born a month early but within 3 months he was 12 lbs. and continued to grow into a strong, smart, and active young man. 


From the time Ryan was a small boy he had a love for older people.


Our neighbors, “Mama and Papa” DeHart were his first playmates and he loved them dearly. One day when he was only 18 months, I had the windows open in the Spring and the windows went to the floor and he saw Mama and Papa DeHart drive into their driveway and he climbed out of the window on the porch and ran to see them as quickly as his little legs would carry him. 


I almost immediately realized he was not in my bedroom and was gone. Of course being a new mother I freaked and ran around the house and could not find him, then I looked out the window and there he was with Mama and Papa DeHart welcoming them home and wanting to be with them.


As he grew older, he became more and more attracted to older people in helping them and just enjoying their company. He also loved to play with his friends and he played soccer, T-Ball, and base ball as well as basket ball, karate, and swim team. He did well at sports and was also in Church Mother’s Day Out and Pre-School and started NW Montessori School – Tomball Christian Academy at 3 years old.

Piano, Cats, Dogs & Fish

A Love for Animals & People

Ryan was in Cub Scouts and Boy’s Scouts and also took piano lessons in his early years. We went to church and Sunday School on Sunday. He also attended Bible School and Children's programs at Spring Woods UMC. 


Ryan always had a love for animals. He had a dog and 2 cats and fish and he loved any animal. We had 2 baby squirrels one time and he also loved turtles. After a big rain we would go out and look for turtles that might be washed out of lakes and ponds and he would rescue them on the road (with my help) and we would take them and put them in the subdivision lake to their new home. One day he found a turtle and put it in our hot tub (that wasn’t on) and he had a nice swim in our little “pool”. Ryan wanted to keep the turtle in the Spa but I told him he would be lonesome without his turtle friends and maybe we should put him in the big lake in the subdivision with his other turtle friends and he said, “ I think that is a good idea Mom. He will be missing his family and his friends.” We took “Mr. Turtle” to the lake and Ryan put him in the pond. 


We had lost both of our cats to another cat attacking them and the vet did surgery on them but we could not save them. We were all so sad and we both cried over our precious kitty cats. I vowed not to get any more cats because it was so heart breaking to Ryan to lose an animal (as it was for me.) One day at the Montessori School someone dropped off 2 Tabby kittens in a box. Ryan was so excited he wanted to take them home right then. I told him no we can't take the kittens home, let's see if we can find them a good home with one of the other parents and their children. 


No such luck! Ryan said, “Well, we will just have to take them home with us.” I told him we could not have 2 kittens. Ryan could be very persuasive and a 'wheeler- dealer' and he could figure out how to make things work out for everyone! (I wonder where he got those ideas.?) 


He told me if he found someone to take the other kitten could we take the other one home with us to be our “Sugar Boy Cat?” I told him if he found someone to take the other kitten we would take one but could not take two kittens. I never thought he could find anyone as we had been asking around.


He took  one of the kittens and went next door from the Montessori School in Tomball and knocked on the door. The lady was a sweet older woman and when she came to the door, she relayed to me later, he said: 


“Ma'am, would you like to have this 'mighty fine cat' as Ryan held him up in front of her?” She could not resist his cute face and his big brown eyes and his politeness and she said she would love to have this “mighty fine cat.” She took Sugar Boy's brother and we took him home to be with us for over 10 years. As it turned out he was a wonderful, loving tabby cat. (I didn't even like yellow cats!) However, I fell in love with Sugar Boy just like Ryan did. He was gentle and never scratched even when a little boy is wagging him around and he would rather be outside and sleep in the garage. He never messed up once! He never left home and he always greeted us at the end of the drive way and waited for us to come home and then he would run up the drive way in front of the car, happy to see us! Many times I would find Ryan and Sugar Boy laying on the back patio under the stars in his Boy Scout sleeping bag with Sugar Boy inside with him. He was truly a wonderful gift from God and I didn't know it at the time but soon grew to love him and his tender ways with my son. 


Ryan went through 1st grade at the Montessori School and then on to another Private School and in Jr. High he went to Lyman Ward Military Academy in Camp Hill, Alabama. 

Ryan Grows Up

The Middle Years

Lyman Ward Military Academy was a wonderful Christian southern private Boys Academy patterned after West Point Military Academy on a much smaller scale. Ryan lived in the home on campus of his Company Commander and his wife along with other boys his age. It was a warm environment with constant supervision and activities and sports as well as JROTC on campus. Lyman Ward was the oldest undergraduate Military Academy 7-12grades in the United States as it was founded in 1898. Many of the teachers were wives of the officers and since it was only about 20 miles from Alburn University it was a good Academy for young men. They used an accelerated curriculum but they also taught the importance of honor, character, God, and Country. They emphasized leadership skills, and all students were a part of the JROTC and they marched and Ryan played the clarinet in the LWMA Band which played for all the football games and all athletic events as well as concerts and the Military Ball and formal events when parents would come for the weekend. Ryan went to Church each Sunday with his friends and he talked about they always had donuts for the boys after Sunday School and some times the Pastor would let Ryan use his office phone to call me collect to talk just a few minutes.. 


One weekend when I was down for a Parents Weekend, I stayed at a hotel and he could come on Friday night after the football game and spend the night with me and I had to have him back in the morning early to prepare for Parents Day Activities the next morning. At the Football game that night, it rained so hard you couldn't see the field. I had an umbrella but sat in the rent car until after half time but I could see the Band marching and see Ryan but they boys were soaking wet in their Winter Blue's with the capes on their shoulders and their hats with the plastic cover over them.


By the time the game finished there wasn't a dry thread on any of them and they had to go and put new uniforms on for the dance after the game. It was really wonderful to see these young men marching and wearing their dress uniforms all of the time but that night was the only exception. 


Ryan's Company was one of the very best groups. They were smart and very polite and they enjoyed being together but they also enjoyed being with their parents and grandparents when they would come to visit. 


The campus at Lyman Ward Military was over 300 acres of wooded areas, lakes, deer, and wild life. It was a dream come true when you loved the out doors as much as Ryan did. They would go boating and even to a larger lake close by to water ski and do boating races in the Spring. 


I missed him very much but we talked several times a week and we wrote each other all the time. One letter I remember very vividly.


Ryan was listening to the audio tapes of the Bible and he wrote me about it and said, “ I am listening to the Bible on tape, and it is filled with adventure.” I thought that was really a great way to experience the Bible and the stories were filled with adventure. 


As Ryan grew older he transferred to Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas for a year and then back to Alabama to Plainview High School to finish and graduate in 2000. He went on to Gadsten State College after graduation from High School. 

Growing Into a Fine Christian Man

Ryan's Baptism Cross of Tomball

Love for Others Evident

All during Ryan's growing up years he still had a love for older people and would love to talk to them and help them. I remember picking him up from the Dr. office at closing time and there he sat with a sweet little older lady, talking to her and entertaining her as she waited for her son to pick her up. He didn't want to leave her until her son came to pick her up. I remember she said to me, “Young people don't talk to old people like me anymore, but your son has been keeping me company and he is so polite and has been a joy to talk to. He is a special young man!” 


So many times he made me proud to be his Mother. Many times he would go with me to social events at church and meet my friends when we would go out to eat after Church or an event and they would always comment on Ryan's manners and his good manners and behavior.    


I have had many people tell me what a great young man he was and how he had touched their lives and what a wonderful man he would grow up to be. They were right!


Ryan worked during High School, made good grades, and paid for his own truck and maintained it and kept it perfect. He made every payment but the $1000.00 down payment I gave him as a gift but he paid all the rest of the truck himself. He was so well thought of that he could go to the bank and borrow $300.00 and pay it back in a couple of months with no collateral.


Ryan was a good competitor and participated in local and State High School competitions and he won 4th place in the whole state of Alabama.   He missed one point from making 3rd place which would have given him a big award. He realized there was “politics” involved and the judges have their favorite school districts or friends and he really should have won. He was sad but took it in stride... I never heard him complain.     

Ryan’s Generous Heart for People

A Heart as Big as Texas

One day after college he was working and he had a friend that worked in the same area he was in and they were not really close friends but they worked together. This other young man had son he was raising on his own about 2 years old. The young man had missed 2 payments on his truck because he couldn't work because his son was sick and he got behind on his payments and they were there to repossess his truck. The truck was his only transportation to work. Ryan was so concerned about this young man and his little boy if he didn't have his truck he couldn't work and therefore he couldn't make a living for his son. Ryan asked his boss to advance the young man the $1000.00 to get his payments caught up but the boss said no.


Ryan was so generous and warm hearted and the thought of that young man not being able to go to work to take care of his little boy broke his heart. Ryan wasn't going to let that happen and he pulled out his own credit card that he paid off every month and gave it to the “repo-man” and they charged the $1000.00 on his credit card to save this young man and his little boy so he could come to work and make a living for his son. To my knowledge, the young man never paid Ryan back. He never complained. His concern was the little boy being taken care of.


Ryan had a heart as big as Texas. He trusted everyone and many times he was taken advantage of but he was never sorry when he helped someone. It made him feel good. “It was more blessed to give, than to receive.”


Another time, a good adult friend of Ryan's was talking about his son needing a truck and Ryan actually gave his truck to this man to give to his son because he really loved this man and he had been kind to Ryan. 


One day a Missionary was visiting at Church and talked about what he needed when he went overseas to do mission work for poor people and to help them and teach them about Jesus. Ryan gave $40.00 which was everything he had. On his way home from Church he passed his teacher's house and she was having car trouble. He stopped and asked her if he could he help and she told him what was wrong. He asked politely to look at her car and she allowed him to and he knew immediately what was wrong and said he would have to run to the Auto Parts Store to get a part. She gave him the money for the part and he was back shortly and fixed her car for her. She offered to pay him and he said no he wanted to help her. She insisted and she gave him $40.00! He called me immediately and told me the whole story. He couldn't believe it! I told him that is what God does. You can't out give God. You gave to others that needed it and God gave it back to you and you help someone also. “God was blessing you Ryan.”

Taking Care of Others

Ryan’s Love for Family

(pictured left, Ryan and his Grandmother)

Ryan only had one grandmother, because my father had been tragically killed in an auto accident when he was only 42 and I was 20 years old so he never got to see his grandfather. My mother came to stay with me for a while because she had to have some cancer treatments at M.D. Anderson. After her treatments were over she went home but 2 years later she came back to have her check up and she fell and broke her leg and had to have surgery at 83 years old. She came through the surgery well and had to be in re-hab for a while but Ryan would come to the hospital and then to the re-hab to see his grandmother because he loved her so much. 


After she came home with me to stay for 6 months, she had to go back and forth to the orthopedic specialist and Ryan would some times take her all the way to the Houston Medical Center for her appointments. I usually took her but there were a couple of times when I couldn't get off work and I asked Ryan would he be able to take her all the way across town to the Medical Center to the doctor. I was concerned about sending him all the way across town in all the traffic and it is hard to navigate Houston even 11 years ago.    I gave him the directions specifically to the Dr. office, and money and also my new car and he had to get her in the car from her wheel chair and then back into the wheel chair and to the doctor and I told him to take notes and then bring her home. He could tell I was worried but he told me not to worry he could take care of Granny and he did!  He took care of everything and took her to the Doctor, used valet parking so he could get her out of the car, when to the Doctor and took notes. He got back into the car and tipped the valet driver and then he took Granny to lunch! They had a wonderful day together. 


When I came home, Ryan was sitting with his Grandmother in the back yard under the shady arbor in her wheel chair. It was pretty warm but he had a pink hat on her and the water hose out wetting their feet and he got her ice water and they were enjoying looking at the lake behind my house with his arm around her and his hand patting her on the shoulder. It was the sweetest picture and I will never forget it. I went right then and got the camera and took pictures of them.    


In the years since Ryan's passing, my mother and Ryan's grandmother has developed dementia but when ever we are together we will talk about Ryan and she will say he was so special to her because he loved her so much and paid attention to her more than the other grandchildren. Even though she has dementia she still remembers the feeling of his arm around her and patting her on the shoulder and saying; “Granny I love you. I didn't get to spend as much time with you as I wanted to but I love you so much and I am so glad you are here.” 


Even today at 94 years old, my Mother still remembers her Ryan and the special time they had together. There was just something so special about Ryan! He was loyal, loving, caring, generous to a fault, and always thinking of the other person rather than himself.  

His Untimely Death & Last Words

A Young Life Cut Short

Ryan was living back in Texas and he had been hurt on the job with 3 bulging discs because he was helping someone pick up something that was way too heavy and it hurt Ryan's back really badly. He was waiting for surgery because that was the only way to repair the damage. 


A doctor gave Ryan the wrong kind of medicine, a medical malpractice action, and he went home from the doctor's office and laid down to rest and the medication sedated him so deeply that it slowed his respiration down and finally stopped his heart and he passed away. Ryan was only 25 years old and in the prime of his life. 


Two weeks before Ryan passed away, he came and spent the day and night with me and we had some alone time. It was not enough but it was valuable time in the things we talked about that day. We talked about his future and what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to go back to school and wanted to go to Tomball College in the fall. When I asked him what he wanted to study, he said he wanted to be a nurse. I asked him why? “Mom, I just want to help people.” That will ring in my ears forever. That gave me a place to start to Leave a Legacy for Ryan. 


I knew from experience that was the truth. He had always wanted to help others.

A Life with a Legacy

Ryan Paul Whitaker December 18, 1981 - January 29, 2007

Losing Ryan has affected many people who loved him and were touched by his love, generosity, and kindness. It has been and will be the worst tragedy in my life. I promised that I would “Leave the Legacy” that he never had the chance to leave. His life was my future as a Mother. His future children were my life and it was all gone! His life and the Ryan Paul Whitaker Memorial Foundation is what I work for to Leave The Legacy he wasn't able to complete. I also promised that I would do this for my Son and to bring Honor to God and Jesus Christ and do it in Memory of Ryan Paul Whitaker.


In everything that is done for Ryan's Life with a Legacy, it is to bring honor and glory to God and Jesus Christ and to do it in memory of Ryan Paul Whitaker.