Ryan Clinton Hooper
My cousin asked me to write down my feelings about Ryan's impact on my life. Here is what I came up with:
In 2014, Ryan lost his little sister (16-yr-old ShyAnn Hooper), he would have been 22 years old at the time. I’ve seen some tragedy in my own life, so I know how tragedy can change a person. Instead, of letting the tragedy harden his heart, he doubled down on kindness. He finished his social service degree in a blaze of community-changing internships and went on to a career in social services. He also turned his passion for basketball into a second career coaching basketball in secondary schools.
But as I understand it, this is to be an impact statement. How did Ryan Hooper affect me?
I’m in Software Engineering for a top-tier US defense contractor. In my job as an engineering team “coach”, not a day goes by that I don’t draw on my lifelong experience as a member of a huge family of coaches and teachers. Ryan is definitely one of my influencers on the job!
He is the son of my cousin. If you are not part of a large close-knit family like mine, you may not understand what that means. Ryan’s mother, Sandra, and my little sister were born within a day of each other. Our mothers were sisters. Sisters having babies a day apart – in the same hospital. We lived within a few miles of each other growing up. We all went to school in a small town. In fact from the late 1950’s through this school year, there have been fewer than 5 years when our small town did not have a Thomas descendent in the school! So, this paragraph is a bit of a digression from Ryan’s life, but I need you to understand that FAMILY is one of the reasons Ryan had an impact on me.
My personal interactions with Ryan go back to his first year. Before he was 1 year old, he traveled with my parents, my sister and his mother Sandra to attend my wedding reception in Colorado. A couple years later, he and his mother lived with my husband and me for several months during their family’s relocation to Colorado.
I took part in Ryan’s childhood as much my career allowed – visiting the family in Colorado Springs as often as possible. I spent several years in California and so I missed quite a bit of his high school years. But his mother imagined a fantastic birthday for him while I lived in Southern California. He visited me on his own and I took him around to all the Southern California spots. We visited the beach and Hollywood Blvd. A colleague of mine suggested that I take Ryan and the colleague’s twins to Magic Mountain. So, I did. We rode all the crazy rides and the 3 boys eyed the girls – who eyed them back – and the teenagers all rode a ride together and played some carnival games – all chaperoned by me. That weekend was one of the highlights of my sojourn in SoCal.
That catches me up to where I started this letter. While Ryan was at college at Texas Tech, his 16 yr-old sister ShyAnn was killed in a car accident. I remember the meal after the funeral so well. In the middle of the meal, with family spread out at 3 different long tables, Ryan got up and came over – straight to me – and knelt down beside my chair and talked to me. He thought about me in the midst of his grief. That’s what kind of a person he was.
At his own funeral, the school where he coached used a bus and the town spared one of their police cars to escort the kids to the funeral. They traveled over 3 hours to his funeral. Something like 50 students made that trip. As they filed off the stage at the funeral and down the aisle at the church, I saw my sister rise several rows ahead of me – in respect for their courage to speak out about the impact Ryan had on them. I rose, too, for the same reason. Ryan would want me to.
I’m sure others have spoken about Ryan’s oft-repeated line, “everybody deserves to be helped.” I’m making it a motto of my own going forward. If I help one other person because of that saying, it will be to Ryan’s credit. If I help even more, that is all Ryan, too. I’ll be thinking of him every time I help someone in the future.