A woman of valor: Rona Ramon dies at age 54

Rona Ramon was also the driving force behind the annual Ilan Ramon International Space Conference.

Rona Ramon speaks at The Jerusalem Post conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rona Ramon speaks at The Jerusalem Post conference
Rona Ramon, who died of cancer on Monday at the age of 54, was an exceptional person. The tragic deaths of her astronaut husband and pilot son, Ilan and Asaf Ramon, propelled her to establish the Ramon Foundation, promoting academic excellence and leadership among Israeli youth and working tirelessly to honor their legacy – which is now also her own.
Ramon was born in Kiryat Ono to Turkish immigrants Gila and Yisrael, who survive her, and after serving as a paramedic in the army, she earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education at the Wingate Institute. She later worked as a sports instructor and holistic therapist and became an eloquent advocate for the advancement of Israeli youth. She married Ilan Ramon in 1986, and they had four children, Asaf, Yiftah, Tal and Noa. Col. Ilan Ramon, a former IAF pilot who took part in the bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, perished in 2003 at the age of 48 when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated while reentering earth. Lt. Asaf Ramon, who wanted to be a fighter pilot like his father, was killed in 2009 at the age of 21 when his F-16 jet crashed during a military exercise.
After Asaf’s death, Rona Ramon decided that she had to do something meaningful to preserve their memories. In 2010, she established the Ramon Foundation, not only in response to a personal need to honor her loved ones, but also in the hope of meeting a national need to educate youth in the spirit of Ilan and Asaf. The Ramon Foundation sponsors space and aviation programs for youth and provides scholarships to worthy candidates. Ramon’s aim was to inspire and motivate young Israelis to strive for academic excellence and encourage them to pursue their dreams.
Since then, the Ramon Foundation has become an extraordinary engine of change, and today is Israel’s primary vehicle in promoting space education. It operates educational programs in schools across the country, promoting leadership development and education in Space and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Rona Ramon was also the driving force behind the annual Ilan Ramon International Space Conference hosted by the Israel Space Agency together with the Israel Air Force. As such, she played a vital role in promoting SpaceIL’s Lunar Launcher, which is due to send a spacecraft to the moon in April 2019.
In July, she participated in an inaugural ceremony at the Ilan and Asaf Ramon Airport in the Timna Valley, thanking the authorities for the honor of naming it in memory of her husband and son.
The Jerusalem Post presented Rona Ramon with an honorary award for being “a woman of valor” at its second annual conference in New York in 2013. In an interview with the Post, Ramon said, “I always say that one of the biggest compliments I ever got was when my son said that [my children] were blessed to grow up in a place that encouraged them to fulfill their dreams, no matter what their dreams were, and I wanted to take that sentence and try to pass it on to as many kids as I can.” She summed up her life’s philosophy with words from Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear almost anything.”
In 2016, Rona Ramon was chosen to light a beacon at Israel’s 68th Independence Day celebration in recognition of her great work at the Ramon Foundation. “If [the] reality had been different, it would have been Ilan, not me, who creates all these miracles,” she said ahead of the ceremony. She lit the torch “in honor of my loved ones, Ilan and Asaf, who are a candle and a beacon for the realization of my vision.”
President Reuven Rivlin expressed the feeling of all Israelis when he said, “Ilan and Asaf touched the skies and Rona touched our hearts.” Rona Ramon was a beacon of light and a source of inspiration who possessed the courage and strength to make her own unique impact on Israel and beyond. May her memory be a blessing.