Patsy Ramsey Loses Her Fight

updated 07/10/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Toward the end, when she was too frail to walk, Patsy Ramsey mustered her strength for one final task. She loved to paint, and she had to finish her work for her first exhibit at an art fair. "So her art teacher came over, and Patsy was weak as a kitten, but they worked until 11 at night until it was done," says Patsy's close friend Suzanne Goebel. The painting showed two children on a beach. "It was her son Burke with his arm around JonBenét," says Goebel. "She didn't say much about it, just that it was them."

Patsy Ramsey, 49, died on June 24, after battling ovarian cancer for years. Known the world over as the mother of tiny beauty queen JonBenét, 6—whose strangling murder in 1996 remains unsolved—Ramsey saw her cancer go into remission for nine years before it recurred in 2002. In the last few weeks her health steadily declined, and she died with her husband, John, 63, at her side. "I think Patsy understood she was not going to win this battle," says Lin Wood, the Ramseys' friend and lawyer. "John was probably the last person to accept that somehow she would not pull off another miracle."

Her friends say they will remember Patsy as a gutsy, graceful southern gal. "She was not a quitter, and she kept putting one foot in front of the other, just embracing life," says her friend Vicki Hankins. But her public legacy—as a former beauty queen who put her young daughter in pageants and never fully escaped suspicion for JonBenét's murder (see box)—dogged her until the end. "The whole deal with JonBenét was just the absolute worst thing in your life that can happen," Patsy told PEOPLE in 2004. "So it even makes cancer pale in comparison."

Raised in Parkersburg, W.Va., Patsy won the title of Miss West Virginia in 1977. In 1980 she married John Ramsey, an executive at a computer services firm; their daughter JonBenét won several beauty titles, including Little Miss Colorado. But Patsy's life changed forever after John told police he discovered JonBenét's body in their basement. Patsy's claim to have found a bizarre ransom note—which some experts still believe she wrote—made her a focus of the investigation.

To escape media scrutiny, the Ramseys and their son Burke, 19, moved to Charlevoix, Mich., in 2003 and lived largely normal lives. Friends say it was Patsy's deep Christian faith that helped her cope with JonBenét's murder and her illness. "This is just our earthly home," Patsy said in 2004. "We're going to heaven, where JonBenét is. That's when we'll really be home."

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