A house is where people live but a home is where people are loved. Sometimes, the bonds of family have no relation to biology. That’s why when a group of fraternity brothers learned their “second mom” needed help to retire, she didn’t even need to ask.
Jessie Hamilton worked as a cook at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house (affectionately known as Fiji) on the campus of Louisiana State University from 1982 to 1996. Though the single mom had three kids of her own, she treated the young men in her care like surrogate sons—listening to their worries, offering counsel, and even driving them to doctor’s appointments or ferrying them to the grocery store on occasion.
“I enjoyed doing it. They loved my cooking,” Hamilton told The Washington Post. “I was always there to talk things through with them. They’d come in the kitchen and sit on top of the counter and tell me their problems.”
Andrew Fusaiotti, who’s now 52 years old, was a Fiji brother in the late 1980s. “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.”
After leaving LSU, Hamilton found herself juggling several jobs to keep afloat financially. It was nothing new. She’d been caught in that cycle since the age of 14.
But yearning for a home of her own, in 2006 at age 60, Hamilton took out a 30-year mortgage for the house she hoped to someday retire in.
Over the years, Hamilton stayed in touch with several of the fraternity brothers, among them Fusaiotti, who now owns a car dealership in Mobile, Alabama.
At the onset of the pandemic, Fusaiotti gave Hamilton a check-in call to see how she was faring. During the conversation, he was dismayed to learn she was still working multiple jobs and that retirement wasn’t an option in her foreseeable future.
Not doing something to rectify the situation wasn’t an option for him.
Fusaiotti reached out to Hamilton’s family to find out how high he’d have to set a monetary goal, then started tag-teaming his frat brothers for financial donations to pay off her mortgage and give her a nice little cushion as well. With contributions averaging between $600 to $1,000 from about 91 alumnae, all told, Fusaiotti’s drive raised $51,765.
Just a few days prior to her 74th birthday, the boys of Fiji officially declared April 3 “Jessie Hamilton Day”, celebrating the event with a catered party that included the presentation of two giant checks, one for $45,000 to pay off the mortgage and another $6,675 check just for Hamilton, topped off with commemorative T-shirts and koozies—plus a whole lot of love and warm memories.
Now Hamilton is finally able to hand in her notice(s) once and for all.
As Fusaiotti and the other young men whose lives Hamilton touched can tell you, sometimes guardian angels turn up in unlikely places—including the fraternity kitchen—where you’ll find them doling out generous helpings of fried chicken, red beans, and comfort that goes way beyond comfort food.
“She is the type of person that inspires me, people that don’t have a lot but give a lot,” Fusaiotti told The Advocate. “She’s the most giving person you’ve ever met.”