By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ralph A. Garner III was a compassionate man with a simple goal - to help underprivileged children get a good quality education.
"It was almost like he lived to do things for young people," said friend Gerri Simmons of the West End.
The tall and athletic Garner had an ever-present smile and a strong personality.
"There was a certain flair to him," Simmons said. "Wherever he went, he filled the room."
Mr. Garner, 46, died of a heart attack Monday at his Walnut Hills home.
Born May 6, 1956 in Cincinnati, he was taught early on the importance of education by his parents.
He was president of his Withrow High School class in 1974. He earned his bachelor's degree from Ohio University in 1978. Upon graduation, he worked in management for AT&T in Richmond, Calif.
But it wasn't until Mr. Garner returned to Cincinnati 12 years later that he fulfilled a life's dream - he created and was director of the mentoring program for minority children at Withrow High School.
"He was always concerned about the children," his mother said. "If any of them wanted to keep his dream alive they would get an education."
Mr. Garner spent his days helping others - arranging college tours for students as director of the mentoring program, advising the chess club, keeping scores for the Withrow Tigers.
"He was a very loving, very outgoing person," said another friend, Jackie B. Jones, 61, of Madisonville. "But children were in his heart. He had a real need to cater and mentor them and share with them."
He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and received the Alpha's Martin Luther King Award from the University of Cincinnati in 1993. The same year, he received the Honorary Education Award from Applause Magazine. He was inducted into the Withrow High School Hall of Fame in 1992.
But it was his students' successes that really made Mr. Garner proud. "There were many kids who did not have any intentions to go to college," his mother said. "Because of him, a lot of them have now finished."
Religion was also important to Mr. Garner. He was baptized at First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, and most recently attended Brown Chapel AME Church in Walnut Hills.
In the summer, he taught science and technology in the enrichment program at the University of Cincinnati.
Survivors include his mother, Verdell Britton of Silverton; his father, Ralph Garner Jr. of Atlanta; grandmothers Winnervera McNear of College Hill and Dorothy Garner of Avondale; five sisters, Karen Luckie of Mason, Alice Molder and Ann Sanders, both of Atlanta, Arlene Killings of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Renee Turner of College Hill; and two brothers, Alan Garner of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Ernest O. Britton of Hyde Park.
Visitation is 9-11 a.m. Saturday at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2804 Alms Place, Walnut Hills. Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity services will be 10:30 a.m. at the church, with funeral service following at 11 a.m.
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