How Facebook Made a Dying Man a Parade Hero

Updated October 31, 2018 — The wonderful Chester Ramey passed away this morning. More info to come.

Lately it seems every story online is bad news, fake news, hacking news, or a cautionary tale on the dangers of Facebook.

Not this time — a team of strangers just made the internet great again.

And the story starts and ends with a dying man named Chester.

I met 55-year-old Chester Ramey last fall at his writer’s group in Winchester, Virginia. He’d reached out to me and asked if I’d take questions, discuss my writing process, and give a rousing “You too can get published!” pep talk.

The tall, affable Chester and I hit it off and I took note of his ability to love and inspire others. He’s a rare soul who is much more interested in how you’re doing than in himself. How’s your family? How’s your health? How’s your job?

In January he called and after some small talk, he shared that he’d made an unexpected visit to the emergency room with stomach pain. A few hours later, he was punched by the kind of gut-busting news that can shake faith and families.

“You’ve got stage 4 pancreatic cancer.”

Fast forward through the shock, the tests, the appointments, the talks with God, the family reunion, the chemo and the reality that this humble man will no longer count his remaining time in years. But rather than counting down, Chester is counting up opportunities to live.

Enter Facebook.

Recently, I was asked to be speak at one of the events during the Shenandoah Valley’s 91st Annual Apple Blossom Festival and to ride in the weekend parades. The Bloom, as it’s called, attracts 300,000 people and this year’s lineup included nearly 200 bands and floats and celebrities like Dan Marino, Sean Astin, Sara Evans and Richard Petty.

Just before the big weekend, I posted the news on Facebook and shared how excited my family was to join me. The first comment was, of course, from my friend and longtime festival fan Chester Ramey. “Sounds so cool to ride in the parades….I will look for you.”

I messaged him. “We can do better than that. Want to ride with me?”

Game on.

Over the next few days, I used Facebook to spread the word that strangers all along the Friday night parade route should be ready to greet my friend with love, smiles and Chester chants. “Please like, share and share again,” I begged.

On his big night, I slipped Chester into a VIP reception where he met many of the parade’s biggest names. When I told Sean Astin about Chester’s diagnosis and journey, he instantly pulled Chester aside and talked about treatments, hope, faith and Chester’s upcoming cross-country train adventure. They became fast friends and Sean’s been tweeting about Chester ever since.

Soon we loaded into convertibles and antique cars and rolled onto the route. Within two minutes we’d heard our first Chester chants, and they never let up.

“Chester! Chester! Chester!”

Strangers lined the streets and welcomed my friend as if greeting a rockstar. As we neared the main grandstand and announcers station, we spotted a large green sign that had one simple word on it: Chester.

“I can’t believe it,” he said.

The greetings were impossible to ignore. After introducing me, the announcer added. “And I think I’m also hearing screams for someone named Chester. Are people saying Chester? Welcome Chester!”

“This is surreal,” Chester said. “I’m almost in tears. I’m feeling so many emotions.”

One woman jogged up to our moving vehicle with a handful of handmade cards from children in her neighborhood. “These were complete strangers,” Chester said. “These people yelling my name, it’s such an outpouring of love, boosting me up. It’s kinda wild!”

Naturally, being a local, Chester also saw some familiar faces along the route from church and work. He loved connecting with them too, but their chants were outnumbered by people simply doing good because social media had invited them to.

“Chester! Chester! Chester!”

Later, I asked Chester what he took away from his bucket-list parade adventure. “Just be kind to others,” he said. “Share the love, even though you might not know them. And let them know you care about what they’re going through. It’s pretty simple.”

Among a festival full of politicians, actors, beauty queens and country music stars, Chester was the biggest celebrity in town. Isn’t is beautiful that someone so gifted at uplifting others one by one was lifted up by legions?

Facebook, if you’re listening, thanks for doing some good. Because of you and your community, I can almost still hear the chants a week later.

“Chester! Chester! Chester!”

Courage to Be You
Jason’s new book, written with Gail Miller,
is now available from Amazon and DB

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