Joshua Mardis with his sister, Haley Mardis. Loved ones said every single memory of Josh "was a good one."

Joshua Mardis was born into Alabama football — literally.

It was November 2002, and Kirk Mardis, Joshua’s dad, had rushed home to find his wife on the floor going into labor. He looked up at the TV, and Alabama was about to kick off versus LSU. But “as luck would have it,” Kirk said, they weren’t quite ready for surgery when they got to the hospital, so they watched the entire football game in his wife’s room. Alabama beat LSU 31-0 that night, and Joshua was born.

“It was kind of a cool night,” Kirk said.

Joshua, like his family, was a big Alabama football fan. He got accepted to go to college there but chose JMU instead. When he got his JMU acceptance email on the bus ride back from a varsity soccer game in Norfolk, Virginia, he called his mom, Yvette, to tell her.

Yvette said he was so nervous that he asked a friend on the bus to open the email for him.

“He was so excited, so thrilled, and so that’s how you knew that was ultimately where he wanted to go all along,” Yvette said. “That was where he had worked toward going. That was where he wanted to be. And so he was thrilled to become a Duke.”

Loved ones who spoke to The Breeze mentioned how Joshua was outgoing, kind and a social butterfly, someone who put himself out there and could make friends anywhere.

Joshua was the first person Ryan Muncy met at JMU. Muncy, now a sophomore, said the day he moved into his freshman dorm, Joshua just walked in and struck up a conversation.

Muncy said that wasn’t a rare occurrence for Joshua, who lived in the room right across the hall. He likened him to Kramer’s character on “Seinfeld,” remembering how whenever Muncy got back to his room, Joshua would knock on the door, almost like a “sixth sense” that he knew he just got back.

“He’d come in and, you know, we would start hanging out and play Madden or 2K or whatever, go grab lunch at D-Hall,” Muncy said. “Every time I sit and think about it, there’s not a bad memory that I have. Every single memory’s a great memory.”

Muncy said this helped him when the accident happened. He said Joshua’s freshman roommate, Quin Robinson, immediately came over to his apartment after hearing the news, and they spent the afternoon talking about Joshua.

“As sad and as surreal as everything was, it was hard to even be sad because every single memory, like, made us laugh,” Muncy said. “I think it just speaks about Josh and … what a happy, overall amazing guy he was. It’s the fact that, you know, every time you think about him you sit there with a smile on your face and kind of, like, laugh to yourself about something.”

David Andrews met Joshua in fall 2021 before a Pi Beta Chi (PBX) rush event when Joshua showed up three hours early while some of the brothers were playing cornhole. Andrews remembers Joshua didn’t need him to hold his hand or lend any help making friends. Instead, the two of them talked about their pasts, their families and their futures for hours.

Joshua was also just a kind person — everyone remembered him as a happy and positive kid. 

Kirk said there was a student in Joshua’s residence hall who was a bit of a loner, and Joshua hung out with him in the common room.

“I told Josh, ‘If you want to have friends, you got to be a friend,’” Kirk said. He choked up as he talked. “Josh would go down and watch comedy shows with him and, kind of, spend time with him so that he wasn’t alone. That speaks to Josh.”

Yvette said a grandfather recently commented on Joshua’s obituary website and said that even though Joshua didn’t know him or his granddaughter, he stopped on the side of the road to help her fix a flat tire.

“That spoke volumes of his character, you know, good people do good deeds and they don’t brag about good deeds. That’s what makes a good person,” Yvette said. “That’s what we admire most, is Joshua had a really, really big heart.”

Joshua and his sister, Haley Mardis (’21), competed in the traditional sibling rivalries. Haley, who’s four years older, remembers the moment she realized she couldn’t “physically overpower him anymore.” But before then, as young as 5 years old, Joshua knew Haley had what Yvette called an “unnatural” fear of aliens. One night, to get back at her, he looked in her closet and told her there was an alien in there — and for days afterward, Kirk and Yvette stayed with her until she fell asleep.

Haley also remembered a time at summer camp when the counselors said there was a towel in the lost and found. Joshua immediately raised his hand and said it was his. Later, Haley said, she found out it wasn’t his at all.

“He’s like, ‘No, that wasn’t my towel. It just looked like a nice towel, and I wanted it,’” Haley said, laughing.

Even though he’s no longer with us, the Mardis’s said they “talk to Josh all the time.” 

Yvette said she tells Joshua every day that she loves and misses him and that “we’re so sad that he’s not here anymore,” knowing that he can’t talk back but that he’s there and can hear her. Kirk said he tells Joshua “how proud I am of him.” Haley said she also tells him she misses him but just talks to him “like normal” or “just how you would do to a sibling.”

Kirk asked Haley if she still gives Josh “a hard time.”

Haley responded with a laugh and said “something inconvenient will happen…to me, I’m like, ‘Oh my god Josh, thanks, you’re messing with me’ ... He was the typical annoying little brother.”

Yvette said she wants to see a sign that he’s OK but also doesn’t think she’s ready for that yet. 

“We’re still so in such deep grief … Maybe I’m gonna be able to look around one day and just see him, you know, see him everywhere and that’s gonna give me comfort and I’ll be able to be open to that and seeing the signs that he’s fine,” Yvette said. “I so much just want to hug him or just just feel him, just give him a kiss.”

In her study, Yvette recently noticed a candle with a wax imprint of Joshua’s hand from when he was little. She said that it’s become “the most precious thing” to her.

“I just, I hold it, I hold the wax hand, because it’s, to me, it’s the closest thing I’m gonna have right now to being able to touch him…it gives me comfort,” Yvette said. “Nothing can ever happen to that wax hand … It’s like holding his hand.”

Kirk recalled the first time he called back home when he was deployed to Iraq in 2005 for a year. Joshua was 2 1/2 years old at the time and spoke two words: “Daddy home?”

“That inspired me to come home, and I know that Josh is home now. And he’s safe,” Kirk said.

Kasey Trapuzzano contributed to this report.

Contact Charlotte Matherly at breezeeditor@gmail.com and Shirin Zia Faqiri at breezepress@gmail.com. For more JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter at @BreezeNewsJMU.