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Andrew Ramsey, 22; his acting in the face of medical adversity inspired others

Mr. Ramsey rehearsed last month for a performance.National Theatre School of Ireland

“Ireland has changed me in so many ways, and every one for the better,” Andrew Ramsey wrote in a college essay dated July 21, just four days before he died in Dublin after completing a Gaiety School of Acting summer program. “Ireland has made me a more honest man. Ireland has calmed me down.”

A sense of calm was often elusive for Mr. Ramsey, who squeezed dozens of hours of joyous living into every healthy minute. He had felt death’s breath before, during a childhood and adolescence interrupted by severe allergy attacks and seizures that sent him to the hospital. More than once, a helicopter spirited him to a doctor’s care.


“All of his life, it’s almost as if he knew he lived on the precipice of death,” said his mother, Isabel Phillips of Weston.

On July 25, after three seizure-free years, Mr. Ramsey experienced a grand mal seizure while alone in his Dublin hotel room. He fell and died of complications from a head injury.

Though he was only 22, his studies at the National Theatre School of Ireland capped a lengthy acting resume that dated back to an appearance, when he was 8, as the title character in a North Shore Music Theatre production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” His medical resume was even longer, charting multiple diagnoses and medications. He brought a printout wherever he went — it was on the nightstand in his Dublin hotel room when he was found.

Most of his friends had little more than an inkling of the health challenges he faced, though, which made the news more devastating as it spread from Dublin to his home in Weston, from Greater Boston theater programs to the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, where he would have returned this fall for his senior year.


“The outpouring of love for Andrew is deep and wide,” Richard Hess, the conservatory’s drama chairman, wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Ramsey’s parents. “You would think he had lived for 80 years. In a sense he did.”

Mr. Ramsey “always lived courageously,” said his father, Peter. “And visually, to others, he was normal, even though he had a perilous medical journey almost from the time he was born to when he died. He never let people know that, and he never used it as his excuse.”

Among the e-mails Mr. Ramsey’s parents received were tributes from friends with whom he studied and acted. “I remember the light in his eyes. I can see even now the passion burning, asking to be released. He loved what he did and he was a beauty to watch as he went about his affairs,” wrote one friend, who added, “I have been a student of his ways.”

Mr. Ramsey, another friend wrote, “was always the loudest one in the room. The loudest one to make you laugh. The loudest one to make you understand. The loudest one to make you feel. And finally, the loudest one to live his life. I hope to live as loudly as he did.”

Mr. Ramsey performed in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah! Wilderness” in 2016 in Cincinnati.Mark Lyons

Andrew Huyler Ramsey was born in Boston and lived in a few communities while growing up. His mother is a reading, language, and learning consultant. His father is a philanthropy consultant who has worked for Phillips Academy in Andover and Wellesley College.


Mr. Ramsey has a much older stepbrother from his father’s previous marriage, and although he essentially grew up as an only child, he “never felt alone. His imagination was extraordinary,” his mother said.

“Parenting him, she added, “was like parenting a comet.”

Precociously articulate, Mr. Ramsey always had a gift for accents and mimicry. After a duck boat ride as a boy, he rearranged chairs back home into his own tour and called out sights. He could rattle off color commentary for a baseball game as precisely as an announcer, and he fielded so many requests for his impersonation of President Trump that he finally posted his act on YouTube so he could put the routine to rest in person.

Mr. Ramsey began acting regularly while at Weston Middle School. He subsequently attended Phillips Academy and graduated from Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick. Along the way he landed numerous roles, among them in “Oliver!” at the Metrowest Family Theater in Sudbury, in “42nd Street” at the Weston Drama Workshop, and in “Crimes of the Heart” at Walnut Hill School.

“I felt it was a yearning, not a calling – a yearning for self-expression,” his mother said of his love of acting.

Meanwhile, trips to the hospital for acute upper-airway obstruction, seizure disorder, and life-threatening allergic reactions to certain foods, grasses, and animals formed a counterpoint to his hours on stage. He was taken by ambulance to emergency rooms 48 times before he turned 6.


All of this took more than just a physical toll. “There’s a great stigma in our culture about getting therapy and support when you’re dealing with these circumstances,” his mother said. “We would never have survived this — Andrew would never have survived this — without the counselors and therapists he got to help him. My hat is off to all the people who supported us along the way.”

In a nod to the financial precariousness of pursuing an acting career, and to his own background as a patient, Mr. Ramsey had told his parents he wanted to train to work as a paramedic by day, and go on auditions at night. “He wanted to help other people,” his mother said. “I see all these postings about how kind he was to his friends — as if he was rescuing them, like he had been rescued and held.”

In addition to his parents, Mr. Ramsey leaves his stepbrother, Stephen Freeman of Voorheesville, N.Y., and his great-grandmother Winnie Phillips of Due West, S.C.

A memorial service will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 30 in St. John’s Chapel on the Groton School campus in Groton. A gathering to celebrate Mr. Ramsey’s life will be held at 4 p.m. Nov. 25 in the Weston Community Center.

Years ago, when Mr. Ramsey was hospitalized and intubated, his mother held his hand and said “I love you,” and through the tube he gurgled, “I love you back.” That exchange became a refrain for the end of every phone call and every Facetime conversation he had with his parents, to the very last.


After Mr. Ramsey died, his parents held a ceremony in Dublin to scatter some of his ashes in the River Liffey. “Ireland did not want to let go of Andrew, and Andrew did not plan to let go of Ireland. He felt at home here,” she posted on Facebook.

“There has not been a day that I have not woken up in Ireland without a smile on my face – regardless of the weather,” Mr. Ramsey wrote at the end of his college essay about his Dublin experience.

His studies, he added, prompted him “to remember that at the core of the play, at the core of acting, is a beautiful story, and great fun. Above all, Ireland has reminded me that in theatre, we have to play. So every time I enter a rehearsal back home, the first thing I will tell myself is, ‘Let’s Play!’ ”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.