By David Meade
LaKeasha Monique Rutledge Draft was just 38 years old when she passed away on Tuesday, December 27. She was a beautiful young lady grew up in Williamston and had made her way in the world, almost a fairytale life story, which came to an end too soon.
LaKeasha took dance from Bell School of Dance in Williamston and was a cheerleader at Palmetto High School. After graduating high school in 1991, she attended Clemson University where she majored in electrical engineering.
While attending Clemson, she danced as a member of the Rally Cats, the official dance team of the university. The Rally Cats are skilled in jazz, pom and hip-hop and dance at all home football and basketball games in addition to making appearance on and off campus. She was also a member of the Lambda Theta Chapeter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
In 1995, LaKeasha graduated from Clemson with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and went on to work as a technical sales engineer at Cutler-Hammer Eaton Corporation. She also worked as sales representative at Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., as a senior sales professional at Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals and a senior sales professional at Greater Atlanta Area Pharmaceuticals.
LaKeasha was a professional cheerleader for the Charlotte Hornets for about eight years. While in Charlotte, she met her future husband, NFL linebacker Chris Draft who was playing for the Carolina Panthers at the time. According to family members, they dated about five years before marrying in a private ceremony in Atlanta on Nov. 27.
She worked with Draft on his charitable foundations until she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in January. Keasha, as she was known, had never been smoked. She was also working as a pharmaceuticals sales rep and had recently been transferred to Atlanta, a family member said.
At the time of their marriage, Keasha was very ill and came down the aisle in a wheelchair. Family members from the area attended the ceremony. Just one month later, on Dec. 27, Keasha succombed to the cancer.
“She set a great example for younger family members by showing how hard work and determination pay off by earning her degree in engineering, dancing professionally and working hard to advance in her field,” said family spokesperson Tina St.John. “She was a great friend as evident from her support system of friends during her year long fight with cancer and at her wedding.”
St.John said, “She had a zest for life as she was not afraid to explore new things. Her personality was always upbeat and full of energy. She would always brighten your day when she came around, even until her death.”
A celebration of Keasha’s life was held at Calvary Baptist Church in Williamston on Saturday. The funeral procession received an escort by the Williamston Police Department to the burial which followed at New Prospect Baptist Church.
A statement on Draft’s foundation website stated, “She courageously faced lung cancer, showing us all with every breath that we all need to hold onto life and love with both hands for as long as we can. Not just an inspiration, but a light, and a force that led the way with a beautiful, sweet smile and bright shining eyes that both belied the pure steel of her strength and determination. Strong is too pale, too shallow and too small of a word to describe Keasha’s vibrancy… Quite simply, she was ferocious. She fiercely held onto life, and love with a forcefulness that was absolutely awe-inspiring and completely breathtaking. Rest in peace, Mrs. Draft.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for support of Team Draft, the Chris Draft Family Foundation’s tribute to Keasha. Team Draft was created by Chris and Keasha during her year-long struggle with lung cancer in hopes that her valiant fight to live, love, laugh and smile will give hope and comfort to people across the world.
The foundation website states, “Chris and Keasha, the Draft and Rutledge families, friends and loved ones ask for your support, and love, and thank you for joining Team Draft… because it takes a Team to tackle cancer!”
Donations to Team Draft can be made via the Chris Draft Family Foundation’s website at www.chrisdraftfamilyfoundation.org or via mail to the Foundation’s Atlanta office.
A Facebook page called Keasha Rutledge Draft’s Celebration has been created and family members ask that messages be left via Facebook so that they can be shared with Keasha’s beloveds across the world.
“Keasha’s family and friends appreciate the prayers, thoughts, comments and support,” said St.John.