Judith Cantor Ronci died May 26, 2022, at her home in Ormond Beach, Fla., of complications from a stroke in January. She was 85.
The granddaughter of Ashkenazi Jews who had fled the pogroms of 19th-century Russo-Poland, she was born Judith Marilyn Cantor in Bayonne, New Jersey, February 22, 1937, to homemaker Irene Slepin Cantor and Bayonne fire captain Max Benjamin Cantor.
A child of the Great Depression and WWII, Judy was uncommonly bright and sensitive, skipping two grades in school. The baby of the family, she adored her brother Ralph and sister Mildred (aka “Cookee”), who adored her in turn.
The family moved to California after the war, where Judy attended W.P. Frick Jr. High School. It was in Oakland that her father Max died unexpectedly at age 49, while Judy was only 12.
Widowed at 44, mother Irene moved the family back across the country to Bayonne then to Miami in 1950, settling in West Miami. To help make ends meet, Judy entered the workforce at age 13 as a short-order cook. She attended the brand-new Coral Gables Sr. High School, graduating at 16 with the Class of 1953.
Later, Judy worked at a series of banks, making friendships that endured throughout her life. Her best friend remained her sister, Cookee, the two bonded by their rare sense of sharp, dry humor and their devotion to Cookee’s daughter, Ruth, who was like a daughter to Judy.
It was at a 1957 party in Coral Gables that Judy met Salvatore “Sal” Ronci, a University of Miami (UM) music major, classically trained in trumpet and a member of a popular vocal group, “The Coralairs.” Judy and Sal’s courtship took them to Havana, where the group headlined the Sans Souci nightclub on the eve of the Cuban revolution, and the recording studio, where the group cut singles that topped the local charts and gained national airplay.
Judy and Sal married in 1958, settling in Miami to raise a family, starting with daughter Julie (1959) then sons Jeffrey (1961) and Michael (1963). After their children were born, Judy and her sister Cookee attended UM, each earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees in elementary education and administration. They and Sal, a music teacher, instilled by example a lifelong love of learning and respect for teachers and public education in their kids.
Judy’s teaching jobs included Vineland, Frank C. Martin, and South Miami elementary schools, plus a stint as a reading-instruction coach for other teachers. Judy ended her career as a fifth-grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary. In 1994, after 25 years of teaching in public schools, Judy joined Sal in retiring to Volusia County, Fla., where Sal’s family had lived since the 1950s.
In retirement, Judy joined the Advent Hospital Auxiliary volunteer corps, donating 3,364 hours, comforting countless patients and families, and forging enduring friendships with her fellow volunteers. She was a fixture at the hospital’s information desk and served on the auxiliary’s board of directors as chair of fundraising. To quote a friend and fellow volunteer, “Working fundraisers with Judy always brought laughter and great conversations.” On the homefront, Judy also devoted years to graciously and gratefully sharing duties as surrogate grandmother and nanny to her beloved great-nieces and great-nephew.
Music and food, family and friends, education and public service were Judy and Sal’s shared passions. They shared their love by opening their home for jam sessions, with musician friends and other loved ones dropping by and sitting in for hours of improvised jazz and great food.
Judy and Sal’s marriage lasted 62 years, until Sal’s death from COVID and Parkinson’s disease in 2020. Devoted to Sal in sickness as in health, she served as his main caregiver while braving health challenges of her own.
Judy faced death the way she had faced life, with rare courage, compassion, and humor, entering hospice care at home, as was her wish, on Mother’s Day 2022. She spent her last days surrounded by her daughter Julie Ronci Sipes, son-in-law Kenneth Sipes, and son Mike Ronci, all of Ormond Beach; son Jeff Ronci of Miami; niece Ruth Goldweber Annunziato of Coral Springs, Fla.; her beloved cat and “girlfriend” Pippin, and an extraordinary team of loving caregivers, led by Jennifer Nevadomski-Hodgson of Palm Coast, Fla.
Judy is also survived by her adored and adoring yerno, Jeff’s husband, Juan Bosco Talavera; beloved cousins, nieces, nephews, and sisters-in-law; dearest friends; and countless students she and Sal inspired in their years of teaching.
A celebration of both Judy’s and Sal’s lives is planned for the fall, with details forthcoming. The family requests, in lieu of flowers, donations to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Halifax Hospice of Volusia County.
“She is a tree of life to them…”
— Proverbs 3:18
Judy with sister Cookee, son Jeff, and nephew Adam
Beloved Aunt Judy
Baby Judy with mother Irene, brother Ralph, and sister Mildred (Cookee) — Budd Lake, New Jersey, 1939
My mom Judy and her cousin Arleen, (Bayonne, New Jersey, ca. 1939)
Three dear AdventHealth Auxiliary buddies❤️
Partners at the Advent Health Auxiliaries