Ruvimbo Heather Zvobgo
Beloved daughter and sister, snack aficionado
Claremont resident Ruvimbo Heather Zvobgo died of cardiac arrest on July 31, 2015. She was 21.
Ms. Zvobgo, affectionally known as Ru, was born on February 1, 1994 at Avenues Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe to Chegetai Zvobgo and Kebokile Dengu-Zvobgo.
When she was 8, the family moved to Claremont. Ru attended schools with strong special needs programs in neighboring cities and thrived in after-school activities at AbilityFirst in Claremont. At AbilityFirst, where she was a regular from 2005 to the present, she enjoyed swimming, field trips and working on puzzles. Most recently, Ru attended a post-high school transition program in Glendora, where she participated in sheltered work training at Edible Arrangements and other businesses.
Ru made friends wherever she went. Though she was non-verbal, AbilityFirst Director Julie Martin said she was extremely expressive. “You could tell if she was happy or sad or thinking of things,” she said. “When she was happy, she would clap her hands and give a certain smile that said, ‘Everything is good. The world is a good place.’”
That smile, she noted, was of the 100-watt variety. “It lit up the room,” Ms. Martin said. “I used to say, ‘Ru, you could be a supermodel.’ She was one in a million, and we’ll miss her so much.”
She will also be missed among the congregation of the Salvation Army in Pasadena. Ru and her sister Kelebogile, called Kelly, are fourth-generation Salvationists. Their mother, Kebokile, is a member of the Salvation Army Pasadena Tabernacle Choir and regularly took Ru to rehearsals. She didn’t pull any punches when it came to her assessment of the singers’ performance. “If she liked the music, she would clap. If she didn’t, she’d be like, whatever,” Kebokile said, mimicking her daughter’s unimpressed face.
Ru also made many friends at Pitzer College, where her mom is associate dean of International Programs. Some people don’t know how to talk to people with developmental disabilities, Kebokile said. “It’s like they’re just invisible.”
That was never the case at Pitzer. “That’s the beauty of my colleagues,” Kebokile said. “They included her in everything.” One such colleague is Michael Ballagh, who serves as associate vice president for International Programs at Pitzer College.
“Ru was an extraordinarily gracious young woman. She was truly a global citizen, not simply in her extensive world travels with her family, but also as a regular and welcome attendee at most public events for international students on campus,” Dr. Ballagh said. “From time to time, Ru would accompany her mum to work and would sit happily (and quietly) in her office, invariably with a broad grin on her face. A gentle and beautiful soul, her happy presence will be sorely missed at Pitzer.”
Just in case Ru sounds like a saint, her friends and family are quick to note that she could also be a rascal. Kelly jokes that it just wasn’t fair. “Ru was always mischievous and never got in trouble,” she said. “I was never mischievous and always got in trouble.”
Ms. Martin recalls the time a staff member returned to the AbilityFirst office with a large, frosty Coke. “Ru snatched it and went into the bathroom so fast and drank it in the stall, then threw it in the trash like, ‘I’m done.’ She was a sweet girl, but very sneaky.”
Ru loved food and was known for helping herself to snacks, which she often stored in her purse. “A lady never leaves home without her purse,” Kebokile laughed.
Kelly recalls Ru sleeping with her purse when they shared a hotel room, as if she didn’t trust her sister not to steal the kettle corn she’d stored inside. “If we ever had a natural disaster, Ru would be fine with all of the supplies in her purse,” Kelly said.
Along with making mischief, Ru forged some wonderful memories with the help of family and friends. Her 21st birthday, celebrated with dinner at Tutti Mangia and a cake from Some Crust, was an unmitigated success. And immediately prior to her death, she took a five-week trip to London with her mom and sister, where they traveled to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of the Salvation Army. Ru particularly enjoyed staying in hotel rooms and traveling on a motor coach, as well as feeling the breeze atop those iconic double-decker buses. Of course, she loved the restaurant meals.
A memorial service held on August 7 at the Salvation Army Pasadena Tabernacle Corps—with Salvation Army officers/pastors Majors Darren and Mary Norton officiating—drew 179 people, including friends from AbilityFirst, the Claremont Colleges, LA County Transition Program (Glendora site), the San Gabriel/Pomona Regional Center and the church congregation. Ru loved bright colors, particularly green and blue, so they had sunflowers at the funeral instead of something more somber like white lilies. She was privately buried at Oak Park Cemetery.
At the memorial, Ru’s cousin Douglas Mupasiri gave a moving tribute, which Kebokile paraphrased. “He said she had an incredible effect on everyone who knew her. She let us all know what was important—food, love, shelter and comfort—and let us know we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.”
“She also taught us to be patient and kind,” Kelly added.
In this time of loss, Ru’s family is taking comfort from their large support system. So many friends have brought food over to the house that Kebokile hasn’t had to cook. They are also helped by their faith.
“As they say in the Salvation Army, Ru is not dead. She’s been promoted to Glory,” Kebokile said. “Her body is planted in Claremont but her spirit is with the Lord.”
Ru is survived by her her mother, Kebokile Dengu-Zvobgo, her father, Chengetai Zvobgo, and her sister, Kelebogile Zvobgo. She also leaves behind devoted family and friends.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Salvation Army or AbilityFirst, 480 S. Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711.