Student fought public battle with cancer while raising money for research
Rice University junior James Ragan died at his Corpus Christi, Texas, home after a long illness Feb. 17. He was 20.
A remembrance will be held at Duncan College Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
A philosophy major, Duncan resident and former member of the Rice golf team, Ragan fought a tenacious and public battle with cancer since the age of 13.
He suffered from a rare form of bone cancer, osteosarcoma, the eighth most common form of childhood cancer.
While undergoing treatment, Ragan founded Triumph Over Kid Cancer, a foundation to raise money for research into “orphan” diseases, for which drug companies have little financial incentive to develop treatments. As of last March, the foundation had raised more than $750,000 through donations, an annual golf tournament and a toga party.
“James was a role model in so many ways for all of us at Rice,” said Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson. “Most importantly to me, it was clear that his fervent drive was to spend what time he could with his fellow students. His determination to live and to help other young cancer victims is an example to all of us and a reminder about how fortunate we are to study, work and live together in this caring community.”
Rice golf coach Justin Emil said his team got the news before heading out on the course for the final round of the Rice Intercollegiate tournament, and said those who knew Ragan were “inspired to play hard for James.”
“When he was on the golf course, he actually gave everything he had, every ounce of energy, probably to the point where it left him exhausted from the cancer he was fighting,” Emil said of Ragan, who earned a spot on the team as a freshman walk-on.
“It was a really neat perspective that he presented to the players on the team, and to me as a coach, to have someone with that big a heart, with that drive, to really take advantage of an opportunity to play Division 1 college golf.”
Duncan College master Luis Duno-Gottberg said Ragan’s sister, Mecklin, a Rice alumna, was among the first residents of the college that opened in 2009 and said James was a frequent visitor before he joined her there a few years later.
“In a way, they’re foundational members of the community,” he said. “When he came in, we knew that he was sick, but he never really made his illness something that would keep him from participating in sports and the social life of the college.
“In spite of the difficulties he was going through, he always put on his best face and was supportive of other people all the time.
“The day he withdrew from school, he came to say goodbye, and he then engaged in a conversation about politics and philosophy. He was quite a remarkable young man,” Duno-Gottberg said.
Ragan was on the board of directors of the Sunshine Kids, a national organization founded in Houston that organizes group activities for children undergoing cancer treatment.
Ragan’s cancer was discovered while he was participating in a tennis tournament in Italy and confirmed by doctors at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2006. Despite treatment that kept him out of school for long periods, Ragan was salutatorian of his high school class in Corpus Christi and gained admission to Rice.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it kind of gives you a greater appreciation of everything you do. All of a sudden, it changes perspectives,” he told Rice News in an interview last March.
“Whether that was in schooling or spending time with friends and family or charity work, it helped give me this perspective of trying to make the most out of every day and not taking things for granted,” Ragan said. “And I think when you do that, you’ll be able to accomplish and do things better.”
He is survived by his parents, Jim and Gloria Ragan, and Mecklin Ragan ’13.
Ragan’s family has requested that all memorials be directed to his foundation:
Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation
723 Coleman Avenue
Corpus Christi, Texas