By RANDALL HOLCOMBE
Just as Dr. Keith M. Ramsey ’73 was beginning his career in medicine, the world was becoming aware of a new virus and disease that would alter medical protocol. HIV and AIDS eventually dominated Ramsey’s early professional life as he and his colleagues in research literally wrote the book on that topic.
The son of Dr. Donald M. Ramsey and Edith M. “Meg” Ramsey, Keith Ramsey is a native of Asheville, but was raised in Sylva. His father was a practicing optometrist in Sylva for 40 years. His mother was a homemaker who also helped her husband with his practice by taking care of the books and filling in as a receptionist.
Keith Ramsey graduated with honors from WCU with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Instead of taking the expected career path and becoming the fifth optometrist in the Ramsey family, he went on to receive his medical degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977 and embark on a career in infectious disease research and prevention. Six years after leaving medical school, he joined the faculty of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and participated in basic research into HIV. “We investigated ways to increase the immune response of white blood cells, our primary defense against viruses, with interferons and interleukins,” Ramsey said. Later, he was recruited to the University of South Alabama, where he served as director of the Division of Infectious Diseases for 14 years and led development of one of the largest clinics for treating HIV patients along the Gulf Coast.
Ramsey returned to North Carolina to join the faculty of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in 2005, where he is now a professor of medicine. A resident of Greenville, he also serves as medical director of infection control for a 10-hospital system in eastern North Carolina.
On the WCU campus, Ramsey and family members have created two scholarship funds for students. After the death of their father and husband, Ramsey and his mother established the Dr. Donald M. Ramsey Family Scholarship Fund to benefit WCU pre-professional students. Following the passing of their mother, Keith Ramsey and his two siblings, Donald “Kim” Ramsey ’77 and Lou Ellen Ramsey Hawk, funded the Edith M. “Meg” Ramsey Band Scholarship Fund to provide assistance to members of WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band.
Keith Ramsey came back to Cullowhee last fall to accept the WCU Alumni Association’s Academic Achievement Award during a ceremony that was part of Homecoming activities. As she presented the award, association President Frances Owl-Smith ’83 took note of Ramsey’s long career in medicine and research into HIV and AIDS. “Through his ground-breaking research, medical practice and philanthropic work, Keith has had a profoundly positive effect on the welfare of humanity,” Owl-Smith said.
As he accepted the honor, Ramsey told the students in the audience that he has been fortunate to receive several awards over the years. “You don’t set out to win these awards,” he told them. “You learn from your parents and teachers, work hard, set goals, establish relationships, and you serve other people. If you do those things, you might win awards or you might not, but the real reward is the journey you take to get there.”
Photo by Cliff Hollis, East Carolina University