Speed Reads

It wasn't all bad

Fraternity brothers surprise beloved cook by paying off her mortgage

Officially, Jessie Hamilton was a cook at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house at Louisiana State University, but she was also a therapist, a cheerleader, and a friend.

Starting in 1982, Hamilton worked at the Phi Gamma Delta (also known as Fiji) house for 14 years. She made about 100 brothers delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but was also available to lend an ear, offering advice on everything from relationships to coursework.

"I was always there to talk things through with them," she told The Washington Post. "They'd come in the kitchen and sit on top of the counter and tell me their problems." Fiji brother Andrew Fusaiotti graduated in the late 1980s, but can still remember his talks with Hamilton. "She was truly like a mother to us," he told the Post. "She treated us like we were her own kids. She was always looking out for us."

A sharecropper's daughter, Hamilton started working at 14, and has had at least two jobs at a time ever since. She's kept in touch with several of the brothers, and they decided for her 74th birthday this month, they were going to give her the gift of retirement. Fusaiotti found out from Hamilton's children that she needed $45,000 to pay off her mortgage, so he started a fundraiser. More than 90 brothers from across the country donated a total of $51,764.

On April 3, a dozen vaccinated brothers surprised Hamilton outside of her Baton Rouge home, and after singing "Happy Birthday," they gave her two checks — one to pay off the mortgage, with the rest to spend on whatever Hamilton wants. "If I hadn't been sitting, I would have fell down," she told the Post. Hamilton has put in notice at her two jobs, and plans to spend part of her retirement visiting with the Fiji brothers. "They were my kids," she said. "They still are." Catherine Garcia