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'Ambitious, headstrong and motivated'

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She loved being a social worker and therapist, and she studied to be the best one possible.

 Latoya Akisha Ritter

Latoya Akisha Ritter of Charlotte died suddenly October 19, 2011, at home. She had been talking on the phone when her friend heard a loud thud and called 911. Latoya was 31 and appeared to be in radiant health. Her family hopes that medical science can solve the mystery of her death.

Latoya, or “Kisha” to her close family, was born to Sylvester and Diane Ritter. When she was about two years old her dad, known in the wrestling world as “Junk Yard Dog,” asked his sister to care for Latoya. Although he constantly traveled, he had received full custody of his daughter in a divorce. He wanted her raised in a stable, loving home with her cousins.

Latoya was raised as a sister to Jarvis Jr., Angela and DeLisa in Christine Woodburn’s Wadesboro home. “She called me ‘Mom,’ ” Christine said.

“Latoya was very determined and set goals,” said Angela Woodburn. “She was ambitious, headstrong and motivated. She wanted to be a licensed therapist, and she worked three jobs to put herself through school.”

Believed in family

“She liked to work with children,” Angela said. “She believed in family and thought the world of her nieces and nephews. She took them under her wing and made sure they knew right from wrong. She told them to strive for the best and to not take less, and she believed in what she taught.”

Latoya believed in friends, too.

“She was the best friend I ever had,” said Keetra Sturdivant, who had known Latoya for 20 years. “She was my true friend indeed, the sister I never had. She was young, but mature and wise beyond her years.”

Latoya, an athletic student, was a 1998 Anson Senior High School honor graduate and was on the school’s varsity cheerleading team.

Her dad was driving home from her graduation when he was killed in a wreck in Mississippi. Christine and Latoya attended in 2004 the ceremony that inducted Sylvester into the Wrestling World Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Latoya graduated from UNC Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in social work, then earned her master’s from University of South Carolina. She first worked at the Iredell County Department of Social Services before coming to Mecklenburg County’s child protective services.

Always smiling

“She was always smiling and so pleasant,” said Bonnie Lowe, executive director of Autism Services of Mecklenburg County. “This was not just a job. With her masters degree, she didn’t have to continue here – she liked it. She had everything going for her; she was so full of life, so funny and such a sweet spirit.”

Latoya was especially beloved by the clients of Taylor Home, a residence that serves the mentally handicapped clients that she also counseled.

“She was a people person,” said Lourie Burns, the group home supervisor. “She touched everybody with encouraging and uplifting words. She was passionate about her work and did special things for our people; she was especially fond of Linda.”

Latoya was so fond of Linda Lysaught that she told Linda’s mom, Elaine Hoddinott, that she wanted to take Linda if she ever graduated from the group home.

“I trusted Latoya deeply,” Elaine said. “The only reason I didn’t let Linda go was because if anything happened, she would be out of the system and could not get back in.”

Linda said of Latoya, “She was my advocate and would take me places in her car. We would go shopping and eat at Sonny’s Barbecue. We were going bowling Sunday at Park Lanes.”

Instead of going bowling on Sunday, Latoya’s friends and clients attended her funeral and mourned the loss of a dedicated friend.
***
Editor's note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them. Email editor@qcitymetro.com.

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April 24, 2014
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