JAMES HARRISON RAMSDEN Died in St. Augustine, FL after a courageous eight-year battle with cancer.
The road to St. Augustine starred in 1936. when Jim was born in Ft. Dodge, IA, to John and Eleanor Ramsden. He was the second of four children. Jim's dad was called to active duty at the very beginning of V/WWII and then stayed in the Army. Thus began Jim's journey to Mississippi, Maryland, Turkey, and then, in 1952, to Ft. Meade. He graduated from St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, MD, where he met the girl who would be his life's companion—Rae Jean Lorenzen.
Growing up in an Army family and having his older brother John already at West Point, Jim set his sights on getting an appointment. He joined the Army Reserves In his senior year, and this—along with his lacrosse and academic skills—resulted in an appointment to West Point.
As a cadet, Jim quickly distinguished himself. Few were as serious as he at that age, and he stood out even in a company filled with outstanding cadets, GEN Mike Dugan, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, says that after they roomed together Plebe year, Jim sought out more serious roommates.
Jim excelled in academics, eventually graduating 19th in his class of 573. He excelled in athletics, playing first-string lacrosse and being selected for the North-South Game First Class year. One of Jim's favorite memories was playing against Jim Brown—later an NFL all-star, but, while at Syracuse, reputed as—the best lacrosse player ever. Jim also thoroughly enjoyed singing in the Cadet Glee Club and considered the Glee Club trips highlights of his days as a cadet.
Jim selected Field Artillery as his branch. He and Rae married in Annapolis in June and set out on a great 32-year military career. Fifteen of those 32 years were filled with interesting troop and staff assignments, coupled with the requisite military schooling. The other 17 years were devoted to preparation for and service at USMA.
His FA assignments included the 82d Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, during which Jim, Jr., and Kim joined the family; aide-de-camp to the Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Cambodia, where son Mike joined them; 1st Cavalry Division in Viet Nam, as the Operations Officer and Executive Officer of the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery; and CGSC. After his transfer to the Chemical Corps, he served with the CBR Agency and as Director of Technical Support, Edgewood Arsenal. His Outstanding performance across a broad spectrum of assignments led to his selection for the Army War College.
The other half of Jim's career started when, as a captain, he was selected to be an instructor at the Academy. He earned a master's in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University before his three-year tour at the Academy. While at Johns Hopkins, Linda, their fourth child, was born.
Obtaining a master's in two years with only one year of freshman chemistry as preparation is a tribute to Jim's dedication and intelligence. His performance during this tour prompted the senior officers of the department to encourage him to consider future application for one of the permanent faculty positions. After his selection for the War College, he did compete and was selected. This permanent position required a Ph.D., so Jim returned to Johns Hopkins and completed the Ph.D. program in two years—a program where four or more years was the norm.
During 1980-88, Jim served as Deputy Head of the Department of Chemistry. One of these years was spent on a sabbatical doing research at the University of Florida. In 1988, Jim entered the competition for selection as a USMA Professor and Head, Department of Chemistry. He was selected from a large field of top officers and civilian educators. Jim was an outstanding soldier-scholar, and an exemplary role model for the cadets and young officers of the department. Jim's contributions to the Academy touched every facet of cadet life—academic, military, athletic, and moral development, Jim and Rae kept a constant "open house" for cadets and their "drags" and, through their many activities, had a direct impact on hundreds of cadets.
After just two years as Department Head, he was enduring considerable back pain that was finally diagnosed as incurable multiple myeloma, or bone marrow cancer. This led to his promotion to brigadier general and medical retirement in September 1990. At the time, the doctors' best estimate was that Jim had five years to live, but everyone knew that five years was unlikely.
Jim faced cancer the way he faced every challenge in his life—he met it head on. Rae was a major player on the team. She became his research assistant and the one who could corner the doctors and make them explain everything. And, of course, she was there during all the good times and the bad times, as Jim underwent an experimental bone marrow transplant, numerous injections and tests, and finally, the development of leukemia. Jim knew he had almost no chance at "winning," but he fought the cancer with every fiber of his body and soul. He developed an holistic approach of his own, based on his knowledge of chemistry, his extensive research, and his strong faith.
In his illness, Jim continued his strong leadership role, turning his attention to other cancer victims. He organized local support groups, was always available to counsel someone who had been diagnosed with cancer and didn't know where to turn, and wrote an article that was published in Army Magazine. He brought comfort and courage to many in the St. Augustine area, where he and Rae settled. He was optimistic to the end and continued to ride his beloved jet ski in the ocean off St. Augustine until July. Finally, in late summer, he realized the fight was over. He had won, in as much as he had lived for eight years after diagnosis against all odds. Now he had faith that he was en route to a better place.
Jim is survived by his beloved wife, Rae; his four children—Jim, Jr.; Kim; Mike; and Linda; his four grandchildren; two brothers—John '57, and Tom; and his sister, Mary. He is sorely missed by all.