In only 19 years of life, Harlem's Andrew Heathman left quite a legacy, his parents say.
A youth mentor, outdoorsman and bright student, the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College sophomore died March 15 of an unknown virus.
Andrew's father, Don Heathman, said doctors suspect the 2004 Harlem High School graduate succumbed to encephalitis.
Since Friday, classmates, instructors and his parents have gathered in Tifton, Ga. to remember the towering 6-foot-5 teen known for his smile. Andrew's height, combined with that smile, ever-present beneath his blue eyes, earned him the nickname "Jolly," as in the Jolly Green Giant.
Members of the ABAC Wildlife Management Club planted an oak in Andrew's honor at the college's wildlife research facility, and the college will recognize him Wednesday for making the school's honor roll, said William Moore, Andrew's wildlife technology instructor.
At his March 19 funeral, Andrew's family, friends, professors and high school and college classmates packed into Harlem Baptist Church. Andrew's parents requested an open microphone, and several of Andrew's friends shared their memories.
Many more share their memories and grief concerning Andrew's death on the popular Web site www.myspace.com.
"He always had a presence about him that was very loving, and he cared about other people," said Andrew's mother, Toni Heathman.
Andrew was a devoted friend and son whose presence was a comfort to all who knew him, Toni said. Like his older brother Matthew, Andrew participated in the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership program in high school and continued with the program, mentoring younger future leaders, Toni said.
Andrew was healthy until he began exhibiting flulike symptoms a few weeks before his death, Don said. His parents said doctors could not determine the cause, with diagnoses ranging from strep throat to pneumonia.
His condition degraded while he was home for spring break. Surrounded by family and friends, some of whom traveled from as far away as Texas, Andrew died March 15 at University Hospital, Don said.
Seeing a gentle, loving young man die suddenly, without explanation, has caused many at Harlem Baptist to re-examine their own lives, the Rev. Philip Vestal said.
"Lives have been touched; college kids have reflected on their lives ... and hopefully it has lead them to a more meaningful relationship with God," Vestal said.
The Heathmans' faith has sustained the family, Don said. Andrew did not have health insurance, and the family has relied on faith, the goodness of their church and community to help pay for his funeral, Don said.
Soon, the family hopes to continue Andrew's legacy with the creation of an annual scholarship, Toni said. The scholarship would go to a Harlem High senior admitted to ABAC.
That student should embody Andrew's compassion for others, showing leadership and civic responsibility, she said.
"Andrew's gone, but he's still touching lives," Don said.
Though the close-knit family has lost its youngest member, Toni said she knows Andrew's life served the purpose God had in store for him.
"God's got a wonderful helper with him," she said.
"I always said he was the child of my heart whereas (Matthew) is the child of my soul," Toni said.
Donations to the Andrew Heathman Memorial Fund can be made at Regions Bank in Harlem.
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