BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Fay Sims spent Labor Day on a fishing trip surrounded by loved ones. The holiday marks the beginning of the month in which her late son, Wayde Sims’, life was tragically claimed by gun violence in 2018.
Between the smiles and laughs, Fay took a moment to share a story about her son from a time when he was still a sophomore student at University Laboratory School.
“So Wade was in the 10th grade at U-High and we always tailgated for LSU’s home football games, and so we were out tailgating one year and Wayde just made a ‘free hugs’ sign and he walked around LSU’s campus just passing out free hugs,” said Sims. “When Wayde made it back to the tailgating where Wayne [his father] and I were hanging out, he just was so excited and told us that he had just given hugs to children. He mentioned people in a wheelchair, someone in a wheelchair he had given a hug to, and just that he had a wonderful time giving out free hugs.”
“I always joke, even before Wayde passed away, that I really think he made the free hugs signs so that he could get the pretty girl hugs,” said Fay.
The hugs have since become a part of Wayde Sims’ legacy.
Among the crowds outside of LSU’s first game of the 2019 season was Fay Sims, helping to ease anxiety for members of the school’s football team and fans with free hugs. She was joined by Wayde’s father and several members of LSU’s basketball team who wanted to help her honor Wayde.
“So actually, when I reached out to Skylar [Mays], Ja’vonte [Smart], and Emmit [Williams], they were in Spain, and when I reached out to them in Spain and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing for the first home tailgating game. Do y’all want to participate?’ all three of them immediately dove in and said ‘Yes. Like, we definitely want to participate,’” said Fay.
The team was first introduced to Wayde’s free hugs at the same time they were introduced to now famed head basketball coach, Will Wade, Fay reminisced.
“When Coach Wade came to LSU, the team went on a retreat and LSU staff had given Wayne and I a task to create a video to tell things that you may or may not know about [our] son so that way the new coming players and coaches at the time, they would get to know each other. I guess like a team building retreat," said Sims. “And so in the video that Wayne and I made, it just even talked a little bit about even Wayde giving out the free hugs and how he was just such a loving caring person. It’s just really what I would really want people to remember about him.”
Those teammates have also continued Sims’ legacy through the #Forever44 movement.
“I’m pretty sure it was Aaron Epps that started the #Forever44 and like I mentioned before, I kind of added the broken heart behind it and it’s really taken off. People have it on their vehicles. They’re stickers and shirts. It just really has taken off and it’s just hashtag all the time,” said Fay.
It’s a movement Fay says has traveled across state lines.
“Wayne and I, and we were with a former LSU basketball player, Dennis Tracey, and the three of us walked out of this restaurant and this guy was standing out there and he threw up the two fours, and I looked at Wayne and Tracey and I said, ‘Did he just throw up the two fours?’ And they were like, ‘Yes, he did.’ So of course I backtracked and went and said hello, and we also have these bracelets. Over 1,000 of them have been passed out. People inbox me even since this past weekend and I’ve got messages. One lady is from South Dakota. She sent me an inbox saying, 'Hey, like how can I get a shirt? How can I get a bracelet?’ So I circled back and went and spoke to the gentlemen and gave him a bracelet, but it’s just kind of crazy that we were in a whole different state and people were recognizing us and throwing up the four-four,” said Fay.
The 44 is more than just a number though, Fay stresses, her voice becoming more serious.
Sims, a 20-year-old student-athlete attending LSU at the time of his death, had been adopted into the same family of Tigers fans and students that his father had become a part of decades earlier. Sims and his father shared a special bond, both wearing jersey #44 while playing for LSU’s basketball team.
It’s the bonds Wayde Sims built with his mother and father that they say are the reason they’re able to focus on continuing his legacy of bringing smiles to the faces of others after losing their only son. Fay says she’s turned that bond into the four Ws.
“I just say the four Ws is what I try to live by, which is ‘What Would Wayde Want?’ And so I know he wouldn’t want for me to just pretty much I always say lay down and die, because sometimes that’s just how you feel. Wayde was our only child and I always tell people that he was my everything. He was just my entire life, my world, and so with him being gone, some days it’s just easier to just lay down and just give up, but I know that’s not what he would want,” said Fay. "It’s just kind of anything that comes up “What Would Wayde Want?”
Wayde Sims’ family has since carried on his legacy by creating the Wayde Forever 44 Fund, which is an emotional support dog fund for LSU students. The Wayde Forever 44 Fund also aims to help students with the sometimes hidden costs of having an emotional support animal, such as application fees, deposits at housing facilities, and boarding costs when students need to travel.