By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on board the space shuttle Columbia, died Monday, Dec. 17 of pancreatic cancer. She was 54. After the death of her husband, she became a public figure and established the Ramon Foundation to promote academic excellence and social leadership among Israeli youth.
Ramon’s oldest son Asaf, an Israel Air Force pilot who flew an F-16 fighter jet, died in 2009, six years after his father, in a training accident. She had been required to sign a letter allowing him to follow his father’s footsteps into the Air Force.
Ramon was born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono and served as a paramedic in the army. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the Wingate Institute and returned to school after her son’s death to earn a master’s degree in holistic health from Lesley University in Massachusetts. She also began to lecture about dealing with grief and finding coping mechanisms.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement: “I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Rona Ramon. @NASA sends our heartfelt condolences to her family and the people of Israel. Throughout her life, Rona sought to inspire a new generation of explorers to build on the legacy of her husband, space shuttle astronaut Ilan Ramon.”
“Ilan and Asaf touched the skies, and Rona touched our hearts. We will never forget how you built from out of the ruins, how you endowed meaning in infinite pain, how your creativity filled the never-ending void,” Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.
Ramon is survived by three children: Tal, Yiftah and Noa.