Rona Ramon (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Rona Ramon has died after a long battle with cancer surrounded by family and close friends. 

An educational and youth advocate, she was the widow of Israel’s first and only astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003.

Tragically, their son, Capt. Assaf Ramon, an IAF pilot, was killed in a training accident flying an F-16 in six years later. 

Assaf was laid to rest where his father was buried in Nahalal. 

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu led tributes to the 54-year-old, expressing deep sorrow following her death.

“Rona stood valiantly after the fall of her husband Ilan and her son Asaf, our beloved pilots,” he noted. “She fought valiantly against cancer, which, to our great sorrow, overwhelmed her today. We will always remember her and her wonderful family.”

President Reuven Rivlin offered a moving tribute.

“Rona left us, as she lived among us, noble, won, full of faith,” he noted.

“Ilan and Assaf touched the sky, and Verona touched us. And now beloved Rona, ‘bird angels above you, following your footsteps’.

“We will not forget how you built from the destruction, planted meaning in the infinite pain, filled the work with the deficiency that cannot be counted.

“We will continue to elongate, the light that you spread to those who do despite the pain, and the creators from the darkness. We will look up above and look for you, three glowing stars.”

Born in Kiryat Ono in 1964, Rona, who is survived by three children, Tal, Yiftach, and Noa, served as a paramedic in the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade prior to working as a sports teacher after studying physical education at Wingate Institute. 

Following her marriage to Ilan, the couple initially moved to Ramat David Air Base before the Ramon family travelled to Houston 20 years ago, where Ilan trained for his space mission.

Tragically, he died when the Shuttle broke up while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere after completing its mission, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Columbia was the first shuttle into space in 1981.

Rona and her children returned to Israel where she gained a master’s degree in creative writing. 

Setting up social projects, she founded the Ramon Foundation to provide “academic excellence, social leadership and groundbreaking courage.”

Since its inception, Rona initiated and participated in dozens of educational and social projects, in cooperation with government ministries and local authorities.

Projects affected tens of thousands of people each year.

Officials of the Ramon Foundation noted grief and sorrow that cannot be quantified in a statement.

“Rona never ceased her efforts to make a positive impact on Israeli society and be meaningful to those around her,” the statement noted.

Following the death of her husband and son, Rona had tried to “look for meaning in life”.

An inspiration to many Israelis, sheran workshops helping people trying to cope with tragedies.

A torchbearer at the annual Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl in 2016, she commented at the time, “I light this torch in honour of my loved ones, Ilan and Assaf, who were a candle and a lighthouse to the fulfilment of my vision, in honour of the Air Force pilots throughout the generations who protect us from above, in honour of the astronauts carrying out groundbreaking work for humanity, and in honour of my children and all the wonderful young people who grow up with love for fellow men and for Israel, and the hope for peace.”

Rona laid a cornerstone for a pre-military preparatory program in Mitzpe Ilan, named after her husband.

The pre-military academy will be named after her son, Assaf.