Ten years ago, inside Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, Charlotte and Emmitt Ray said goodbye.
On March 23, 2007, their son Jason – a 21-year-old senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who spent three years performing as the Tar Heels’ mascot, Rameses, at Carolina sporting events – was hit by a car on the side of Route 4 in Fort Lee.
Jason had traveled with the men’s basketball team to New Jersey for the NCAA Tournament. And just before a game against Southern California in the regional semifinals, he embarked on a trip to a nearby convenience store to buy a snack. It was then an SUV struck him as he walked along the side of the road.
When his parents arrived at the hospital from their home in Concord, North Carolina, Jason showed little brain activity. Doctors ultimately pronounced him dead on March 26.
“I told him when I left him, ‘You’ll never be forgotten,'” Charlotte said. “And I pretty well kept my word.”
Ten years later, Jason continues to be remembered. His decision to become an organ donor, coupled with Charlotte and Emmitt’s efforts to keep his legacy alive and raise awareness for organ donation through the Jason Ray Foundation, has touched countless lives.
So in honor of Jason’s memory, both UNC mascots, Rameses and Rameses Jr. (RJ), will wear a commemorative patch at all remaining athletic events during the 2017-18 academic year, beginning with Saturday’s football game against Duke.
The patch was created with hopes of raising awareness for the Jason Ray Foundation and reminding spirit squad members of how Jason represented the University.
“Honoring his legacy and bringing it to the forefront continues to help keep that momentum of his legacy in full view,” said Brown Walters, the director of spirit programs, “as opposed to, ‘Well, that was 10 years ago.’ No, it’s still current, it’s still happening, it’s still going on. These organ donations are happening every day, and his legacy is happening over here at this hospital and making things happen every single day.”
Jason’s organs saved the lives of four men. His tissue and bone fragments helped 114 others, according to UNC Hospitals.
Because of the connection with Carolina Basketball and the NCAA Tournament, Jason’s death became national news. It led to his parents making an appearance on “Oprah” and a few years spent traveling the country, giving speeches about organ donor awareness. They’ve also spearheaded multiple fundraising efforts, such as the annual Jason Ray Foundation dinner and auction that will be held Sunday (Sept. 24) at The Carolina Club.
It’s at UNC-Chapel Hill, after all, where Jason’s story has perhaps resonated the most.
Since 2008, the Department of Athletics has presented the Jason Ray Memorial Spirit Award to a member of the band, cheerleaders, dance team or mascots. In a ceremony last year, the UNC transplant clinic was renamed the UNC Hospitals Jason Ray Transplant Clinic.
And now comes further recognition with the patch.
For 10 years, Jason has been remembered. But the legacy he left behind began taking shape long before that.