Renée Olubunmi Rondeau-A Portrait
Who she was and what we have lost
Let’s reflect on what we have lost as a consequence of Renee’s murder–who was Renée Rondeau? Was she special? Most parents think so, but there was something different about this Renée. We recognized early on that this person was indeed special–that she was not to remain the sole province of the Rondeau family for long. Indeed, she was a Citizen of the World, a caring, feeling, thoroughly engaged sweetheart whose horizons easily spanned the globe. Born in Nigeria, she lived in Germany, was educated in France and worked in Japan. A high-school friend wrote to us upon learning of her death and said “I aspired to be an international citizen, Renée already knew she was!” Indeed, she was a great force for bringing people together — a great many of the people attending her funeral were from other countries around the world!
She did not shrink from differences, she rejoiced in them; she learned to speak foreign languages with great gusto, knowing how this would help bridge the gaps that existed between people. Her Japanese friend, Hitoshi remarked at her funeral: “I shall name my first-born Renée!”. Another friend, Imeka of Nigeria, has said: “Olubunmi and I were spiritually connected; the hands that extinguished her life rendered mine lifeless”. She had that same effect on everyone.
She loved her world and everyone in it; one of her closest friends remarked, “Renée embodied a feeling of unconditional love for all people, and, most importantly, she offered it to all”. In fact, she would have loved the persons who took her life, had they been willing to know her. She devoted her life to helping the poor; active in Chicago Cares, she committed her free time in the days and weeks leading up to her death to refurbishing public housing projects, assisting the elderly and teaching inner city children reading skills. She did all this while telling no one; she expected nothing in return.
Renée aspired to a simple life; material possessions were simply not important to her. She owned no automobile, didn’t want one; her only possessions at the time of her death were a few pieces of furniture and some clothing. Her life, says yet another confidante, “was guided not by self-preservation but by the ethic of humanism”. The thing that mattered most to her, over and above her family, was a good friend. She worked tirelessly at cultivating relationships. A dear friend has spoken lovingly of the “little things” that Renée did like coming to see her race at the Lincoln Park Lagoon — said she: “I did not ask her, it was not planned. She just always seemed to know when something was important to you”.
Her tremendous sense of family was likewise always in evidence; she was a catalyst in bringing our extended family together. Her mother(Elaine) comes from a large family, most of whom live in the New England area but to some extent are scattered throughout the U.S. Renée knew everyone’s birthdays, anniversaries and insisted that we go to celebrations of those events. She went out of her way to attend family functions and to get to know everyone–yes, she “touched” all of them and we think it’s fair to say we will all miss her attention and her affection.
Perhaps the most dramatic indication of what kind of a person she was and the effect she had on people is shown by an incident that occurred during her first year in high school:
We had just returned from a 4-year tour in Europe to the small southern town of Augusta, Georgia. We chose to locate in what turned out to be a mostly white suburban community adjacent to Augusta and Renée began her first year of high school there. Shortly after school began, Renée and a group of students were returning by car from a Friday night football game when they came upon a young black boy walking alone. The driver of the car stopped and several of the occupants of the car got out and began to beat the black boy. Renée watched in disbelief and then began to scream, insisting that they stop. They did, but she paid a price. She was taken home immediately and from that point forward she was ostracized — an outcast. No one would speak to her or have anything to do with her.
Yet, she persisted, vigorously maintaining her principles with the result that, in her Senior year, she was honored as “Homecoming Queen”, an honor not so much indicative of her external beauty but her inner majesty. In the course of three short years she had overcome the adversity of that first year and become the most popular person in the school. It is instructive to note that we were not aware of this incident until after her death when, going through her personal effects, we found a term paper she had written about the experience while she was a student at the University of Southern California(USC). She chose to deal with this problem on her own, confronting what must have been enormous pressure – at a young age(14), in a new town, at a new school and on a racial issue in Augusta, Georgia! That would seem to speak volumes about the kind of person she was.
This, then, was the very essence of Renée Rondeau. We only had her for 30 years — but what a grand and glorious experience it was! For in that all-too-short period of time we ALL — individually and collectively — were touched by that sweet, gentle soul whose sheer JOY at knowing and loving other people seemed to have no limit.