‘I did it for Luke’: Mother of late UA student urges others to get vaccinated

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

Luke Ratliff, a UA senior, superfan and beloved member of the campus community, died from COVID-19-related pneumonia on April 2, 2021. He was 23 years old. 

Two weeks later, Alabama made vaccines available to Luke’s age group. 

Now, Luke’s mother Pamela urges people to get vaccinated. She turned to Twitter on Sunday to share her grief. 

“I wish I had the strength to get in front of all these people and just tell my story,” Ratliff said. “Explain to them that regardless of it being their body, it touches other lives.”

Her vulnerable message was directed at people who are still on the fence about getting a COVID vaccine, especially students.  

The University announced on Monday — one day after Pamela urged people to get vaccinated — that 58% of students have received at least one dose of the vaccine. For comparison, about 50% of Alabama residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“It’s wonderful,” Pamela said. “That’s wonderful. That’s better than a lot of other schools.”

Growing up in Wadesboro, North Carolina, Luke was one of Alabama basketball’s biggest supporters. When it was time to apply to college, he felt like Alabama was home.

Luke joined Crimson Chaos, the official student group of UA Athletics, and reignited the love for his beloved Crimson Tide basketball team. He transformed the group into a spirited fan base during his time as a student. 

On Thursday, April 1, Pamela received a call from Luke’s doctor who shared the diagnosis. She drove eight hours to be with Luke — a car ride filled with silence. Luke texted Pamela throughout the drive. 

“When will you be here? I need you,” Luke said. 

The Ratliff family understood the severity of his condition, which deteriorated as the family drove to Tuscaloosa, but they remained hopeful that he would pull through. 

By the time the family made it to Tuscaloosa, Luke knew he wasn’t going to make it. 

“He knew,” Pamela said. “He knew.” 

Luke’s death left a void. Pamela said every day is hard on the family. 

“Losing Luke — losing a child — is like losing a parent 700 times over,” she said. “It’s horrible. I don’t know if there’s ever any adjusting to it. I don’t know. There will always be a void.” 

When news of Luke’s death spread, the Ratliff family received support from people across the country. The family received well wishes from other teams in the SEC. Friends, family and fans of Luke flooded social media with tributes to him. The University held a memorial outside Coleman Coliseum. 

“It’s just been overwhelming to see the lives he touched that he didn’t even realize,” Ratliff said. “He never knew what he meant to people that never even met him.”

Even after his passing, Luke is still touching people’s lives. After Pamela shared her grief on Sunday, people messaged her to say they’re getting vaccinated. 

“I did it for Luke,” they said.