Oglethorpe Remembers Erik Downes ’12

“To wit or know what life may be,

All things do live and pass away.

In solace pace in reverie,

But thine eternal flame doth stay.”

—Erik Downes, written while in high school

Student leaders reserved a full wall outside the cafeteria in the Emerson Student Center for students to express their condolences for Erik's family. The notes will be given to his parents in time for his memorial.

During winter break, on Friday, January 7, 2011, the greater Oglethorpe community learned of the untimely death of junior Erik Downes. A young man President Schall described as one of Oglethorpe’s “shining stars,”  Erik was so impressive in his manner, his life, and the way he treated others. This is reflected through the hundreds of heartfelt messages left on his Facebook wall by friends from around the world.  Everyone who met him, it seems, was touched by him in some way—whether through close friendship, mutual friends, or just his infectious smile.

Freshman Karen Perez said she didn't know Erik as well as some others, so she relayed her sentiments in a simple message: "You are missed."

As a student leader on campus, Erik served as Vice President of the Student Government Association and was a Resident Assistant in his dormitory.  Off campus, it was typical of him to take the lead in community service projects sponsored by Oglethorpe’s Center for Civic Engagement.  In the summer, Erik served as lead counselor at Braeside Camp in Middletown, NY.  At a time when society is counting on youthful leadership, we should all feel this loss.

Erik also was a permanent fixture in support of OU basketball games.  At one of last month’s games, Oglethorpe trailed the visiting team and the mood was somber in the Oglethorpe camp. Out of nowhere, out sprang Erik.  He leapt to the floor, acting as a one-man cheering squad for the Petrels.  Facing the crowd, Erik called out, “We believe that we can win!”  His spirit was so intense and his words so contagious that shortly afterward everyone rose in support.  ”We believe that we can win!” they responded.  Those words immediately became a victory chant.  And win, we did.

Erik was a “people person.”  Classmates describe the aspiring doctor as “having a way of making everyone feel like they were his best friend.”  On the night before we learned of his passing, students and faculty came together in support of his family and friends through prayerful vigil.  It was a time of reflection.  All in attendance were encouraged and strengthened, touched by their individual experience of knowing Erik.

Only two weeks later, Erik’s family and his Oglethorpe family memorializes his legacy for generations to come.  The university and the Downes family have established the Erik Downes Memorial Scholarship fund, a scholarship that aims to help another young person afford the Oglethorpe experience that was so dear to Erik’s heart.  I think Erik would have been proud.

Erik’s Celebration of Life Service was held on Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. at Ft. Myers Shores Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Ft. Myers, Fla.