Beloved UI professor killed by lightning strike in Swiss Alps

Remembering legacy professor leaves behind.

MOSCOW, Idaho - Students and staff at the University of Idaho are mourning the death of a professor who was killed by a lightning strike while hiking in the Swiss Alps over the weekend.

Samantha Ramsay was mountain climbing with a friend when she was struck by lightning, family friends confirmed.

Ramsay was an assistant professor of nutrition and instructed students in the areas of life cycle nutrition, child nutrition, nutrition education, and sports nutrition in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the university.

The impact she had on her students, colleagues, and everyone whose lives she touched is tangible. KTVB spoke with several people who knew and admired Dr. Ramsay; they say she had a captivating, positive personality and an incredible zest for life.

"She was so young and vibrant," her close friend and colleague at the University of Idaho, Dr. SeAnne Safaii-Waite, told KTVB. "[She]  was able to balance being a professor, a mother and a wife, and an athlete."

"She was so active and she really enjoyed climbing. And something a lot of us would look at and say, that's so brave and so amazing you can do that, and she just looked at it as it was just another day's work," friend and registered dietician Pohley Richey said.

The death comes almost a year after her husband passed away. Rob Ramsay, a former professional baseball player, died last August after complications from a long battle with brain cancer. The couple is survived by two sons, age 12 and 9, who were Samantha's world.

"Rob's passing was tragic and crushing to Samantha, but it was not going to stop her," said Shawn O'Neal, a family friend. "It's just not who she was."

"She had a lot of difficult things happen in her life and in her husband's life - a lot of challenges - but she always took the high road," Safaii-Waite added. "She had this positive outlook on life that you don't always see in people. I don't remember her getting angry about anything."

Safaii-Waite got the call from their department chair on Monday.

"I'm still a little numb... my first thought was for the boys. Who's going to care for her boys? They don't have a mom anymore, they lost their dad last year, how are they going to get through?"

Friends tell KTVB that the 41-year-old Ramsay was very active and often took mountain-climbing trips abroad.

"The best way to describe it is, the way you or I might go to spend a day at the lake or at the park, Samantha goes to Switzerland, or Samantha goes to Machu Picchu, or Samantha goes to Thailand," O'Neal explained, adding that Ramsay was a skilled mountaineer and athlete.

On the loss of his friend, O'Neal said, "It's a deep, bottomless loss."

Samantha's passing is a heartbreaking loss for everyone who had the honor of knowing and learning from her and for the entire Vandal family, who lost an incredibly bright mind in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Safaii-Waite thinks of her as the founder and inspiration behind their dietetics graduate program.

"She truly was a visionary," she said. "Her students absolutely adored her. They all wanted to be like her."

Waite says her passing is a loss for research on feeding young children worldwide.

"Her research was so phenomenal, so inspirational. She took students with her all over the world," she added. "She's leaving behind these students and their research, and so she's been like a seed for them and instilled this knowledge and I think they'll go on to do great things."

Those in the dietician community say her death is also a deep loss for the entire dietician community in Idaho, and beyond.

"She was a leader in the field in Idaho- not only for dieticians but for those she worked with as well," Pohley said. "She was just an amazing person and we will really, really miss her. It's a very tragic day for the state and especially our dietician community."

A positive, vibrant soul whose life was cut short too soon.             

"Grief is just love with no place to go. So I think that everybody is grieving right now because they loved her so much."                                                                                                                                                                        

Dr. Waite tells us Samantha's sister and her husband are planning to take care of them.

As far as the graduate program, Waite says her ground-laying work will continue and the knowledge she instilled in her students will live on.

UI President Chuck Staben addressed the loss in a statement sent to faculty and staff on Monday:

It is with great sadness that we inform the Vandal community about the death of Samantha Ramsay, a faculty member in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Our thoughts and condolences are with her family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

Samantha received her doctorate from UI in 2010, and was an associate professor of nutrition in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences. She died over the weekend in an accident in Switzerland. We join the entire Vandal family in mourning the loss of a talented professor, respected colleague and caring member of the UI community.

More information will be shared with the UI community as it becomes available. 

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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