A resident of the Scattered Site II Program, Ramon moved into his Jerusalem House apartment in August, 2015. Each month, Ramon mails his housing fee in a beautiful homemade card. Each card is a miniature work of art, adorned with one of his photos and captioned with a description such as “outside my window” and the date. Ramon’s artistic sensibility and gratefulness shine through with each card.
73 years old, Ramon continues to live a rich and vibrant life. Born in Los Angeles, Ramon grew up in Hixson, Tennessee. One of nine kids, he grew up without electricity or running water. Ramon moved to California after high school and attended UCLA. In 1967, his mother died of leukemia. She was only 41. Ramon flew home to Tennessee to give her eulogy and take care of his sisters. Devastated by grief, he returned to UCLA to work on his nursing degree. The Director of Nursing asked him to participate in a study on death and dying facilitated by Kubler Ross, and Ramon discovered his calling: to help people die in peace.
At the same time, Ramon managed a flower shop and started his other career. He began working for Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joan Baez in 1967. He met Bette Midler in 1973 and began managing her fan mail and audience development. At each concert, he filled the first twenty rows of tickets with her most fervent fans. He did The Rose and Divine Madness with her, and worked with her until 1985.
In 1983, Ramon was diagnosed with HIV. At that time, people didn’t know anything about the disease. Ramon’s boyfriend died of AIDS, one of many friends to perish from the disease. Though infected, Ramon lived without incident for the next 13 years. He worked with Mother Theresa in the first AIDS hospice in LA County, and comforted those in their final days. Ramon also volunteered to be a part of a “living library” as a gay man. As one of the living “books,” he answered people’s questions and educated them about HIV/AIDS.
Ramon moved back to the Southeast to care for his dying father in 1987. He continued to work as a hospice counselor and showed horses on the farm where he lived. In 1996, he had a seizure and passed out. He spent a week unconscious on the floor. A friend came to see him, found him, and took him to Grady Hospital. He didn’t wake up for a month. When he finally woke up, he needed to learn to walk again. He couldn’t go back to the farm.
Ramon found a place to live Atlanta and started seeing Dr. Sandra Ward at Grady regularly. He made art and gardened. He won second place in the Southeastern Flower Show one year, and first place the next year. He taught art to kids in school, and volunteered at Alliance Theater. He taught art to people with HIV/AIDS each summer for five years, and as a result of this work was honored with the Brandon Ross Abernathy Fearless Commitment Award. He also continued to work as a hospice counselor. “I like doing things for people,” he says. “When you’re active in your life, when you go out and volunteer, you can see the changes in the world.”
Nearly two decades later, Ramon’s apartment was sold. He couldn’t afford another apartment on the MARTA line in a quiet location. “Trying to find a place where I could live and be happy, comfortable, and productive was the greatest challenge of my life,” he says. As an artist, he craved peace and quiet so he could create. He lived with a friend for a month, sleeping on his couch, as he looked for a place to live.
Fortunately, Ramon applied to Jerusalem House. “Jerusalem House gave me back my life,” he says. “I’m thankful to have this apartment.” His apartment is a testimonial to the peace he’s found here; it’s filled with art he’s made, with photographs he’s taken, and with projects in process. Ramon is also gardening: he adopted an uncared-for piece of land in front of a MARTA stop and planted 95 daffodil and tulip bulbs. In the summer, he waters the garden three times a day, taking 16 gallons of water to the bus-stop in a little handcart. People love the garden, and it has brought the community together. Ramon also has a new volunteer job with the Oakland Cemetery planting gardens. “I’m the happiest person now,” Ramon says. “I’m thankful to Jerusalem House for trusting in me and giving me a chance to live a life.”