Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who transformed her loss to become a leading advocate for Israeli youth, was on Thursday posthumously awarded this year’s Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.
Ramon, who died in December at the age of 54 after a battle with cancer, became a public figure after her husband, Israel’s first person in space, perished when the Columbia space shuttle broke up on reentry in 2003.
She largely stayed out of the public eye following her husband’s death, but in 2009, was forced back into the spotlight by the death of the couple’s oldest son, Capt. Asaf Ramon, 21, who was killed when his F-16 warplane crashed during a routine training flight.
She founded and led the Ramon Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes academic and social leadership among Israeli youth with a focus on space, flight, science, and technology. She also traveled across Israel giving speeches and working as a grief counselor.
Her children, Noa, Yiftah and Tal, who were visiting Nepal and could not attend the prize ceremony in Jerusalem, sent a video greeting that was broadcast on Thursday evening.
“Our mother deserves to win this prize, her activities and all that she has done has a tremendous affect on thousands of kids in Israel, and that will continue to influence generations to come.”
“We are so proud of our mother, and we miss her very much,” the siblings said.
Orna Saban, the chair of the Ramon Foundation’s Board of Directors, accepted the prize on her behalf.
At the ceremony, outgoing Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised the laureates for overcoming significant “suffering, criticism failures and disrespect” throughout their careers.
“Pioneers are often fated to be disrespected, but the pioneers are the ones who have built this world,” Bennett said.
“All of the laureates sitting here, each one of them is a pioneer in their respective field,” he said. “And each of you have looked ahead, overcome your obstacles and succeeded!”
First awarded in 1953, the Israel Prize is presented annually in four categories — the humanities, science, culture and lifetime achievement — and is considered one of the highest honors in the country.
The awards ceremony is traditionally held as part of Israel’s Independence Day celebrations, with the prizes handed to the winners by the country’s leaders, such as the president, prime minister, speaker of the Knesset and the head of the Supreme Court.
Other Israel Prize laureates for 2019 include prominent scientists, activists, writers and musicians.
Naomi Polani, 94, was this year’s winner in culture and arts. Known as the “mother of military bands,” the musician, singer and media personality has had a lifetime of influence on Israel’s music scene and has helped set the standards for music culture in the early years of the Israel Defense Forces.
The winner in the life sciences category was Professor Adi Kimchi of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who was recognized for her years heading a lab that studies the complex processes of programmed death in living cells.