COLUMBIA — James Matthew Foster was in the best shape of his life and well on his way to achieving his longtime dream of becoming a Division 1 basketball referee.
A year ago, he was a referee for the Mizzou Madness game, where he made calls in front of more than 7,000 people in Mizzou Arena.
In August, he won $10,000 in the "Operation Transformation" weight loss competition hosted by the Supplement Superstore of St. Peters. He slimmed down from 235 lbs. to 160 lbs.
His auto-biographical testimonial posted on Supplemental Superstore's website recounts his lifelong struggles with weight and health problems. Years of effort and persistence were culminating in accomplishments he had envisioned for himself since college.
James Matthew Foster of Columbia died Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. He was 33. Doctors told the family that the cause of death was a blood infection.
Mr. Foster was born on June 10, 1980, in St. Louis to Brenda Munoz and Jim Foster.
At age 1o, he was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an auto-immune disease that would keep him from playing contact sports. He was also prescribed Prednisone, which caused him to gain weight, according to his testimonial.
While attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., Mr. Foster discovered a passion for refereeing intramural sports, which led to his major in recreation administration. With the help of his Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers, he kept up his grades and went on to receive a master's degree in sport administration from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
He moved to Columbia in October 2007 after taking a job as Recreational Sports Coordinator at MU.
A few months later, he met Carolyn Chipley. They corresponded online and over the phone a few times before agreeing to meet for coffee at Kaldi's. That first date turned into a six-hour conversation, including a walk around downtown Columbia and dinner at Addison's.
Carolyn Chipley-Foster said they were inseparable from then on.
"It was pretty much a done deal," she said.
A few months later, she brought Mr. Foster around to meet the family, much to everyone's surprise. When the two of them walked in, all of her sisters were in the kitchen dancing to the "Cupid Shuffle."
Her sister Mary Chipley said she would have expected this to throw off most people. But not Mr. Foster.
Mr. Foster and Carolyn Chipley-Foster were married July 17, 2010.
But before that, they endured a health scare that changed Mr. Foster's life. In the winter of 2008, Mr. Foster was hospitalized for three weeks — two in the ICU — which lead to the surgical removal of his spleen.
Doctors told Matt then that his weight would complicate the surgery and his recovery. From that point on, Carolyn Chipley-Foster said Mr. Foster was focused on getting healthy and getting stronger.
People who knew Mr. Foster said his dedication to fitness and healthy living was about more than his own self-improvement. He also wanted to motivate everyone around him and help them out any way he could.
Between referee gigs, Mr. Foster also worked at Veterans United Home Loans, where he counseled veterans who didn't have enough credit to get loans through the company.
Mary Chipley said Mr. Foster was a big influence on her decision to enroll in MU. After she moved to Columbia, Mr. Foster and his wife would always take her out to brunch.
"He was just a good friend, a confidant, someone who you could always trust, who wouldn't judge you," Mary Chipley said.
Carolyn Chipley-Foster said she never had a bigger supporter.
"He was one of the most loyal people I ever met," Chipley-Foster said. "He was on your side. He was really proud to be on somebody's team. That's why people loved him so much."
"I don't know what we are going to do without him," she said.
"I just loved him, and we miss him, and there's not much else other than that."
Mr. Foster is survived by his wife, Carolyn Chipley-Foster; his daughter, Daphne Louise Foster; his father, Jim Foster; his sister, Laura Foster; his grandparents, Terry and Ira McIntyre; and his nephew, Jake Foster.
His mother, Brenda Munoz, and grandparents, Charlotte Massey, Carl Foster and Marie Foster, died earlier.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made for Daphne's college fund. Checks can be made out to "For Benefit of Daphne Foster," and mailed to c/o People’s Bank & Trust, P.O. Box G, Troy, MO 63379.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.