Jennifer Zighelboim wasn’t quite cruise director Julie McCoy from television’s The Love Boat.
For starters, though she held many roles over her 27 years with Royal Caribbean Cruises, mostly as a marketing professional, cruise director wasn’t one of her titles. She also wasn’t looking for love on board; Zighelboim was married to husband Ron and mother to their two sons, Owen and Julian.
That part of her life brought joy. She earned St. Philip’s Episcopal’s School’s Most Valuable Parent Award in 2009 for her many contributions to the School Home Association, such as creating the Christmas Bazaar. She also chaired the book fair and tuition raffle, enjoyed her role as room mother, and oversaw the school’s welcome suppers. She never missed a soccer game.
Love, she understood, Ron Zighelboim said in his eulogy at her service at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Coral Gables, eight days after she died on Aug. 20 at 48 from Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a bone marrow disorder.
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“Love, she understood, builds bridges into people’s hearts. This concept seems so very simple, yet we seldom come across individuals who truly get it to the extent she did,” he said.
Weeks later, he reflects further. “You’ll find a common thread of love when you speak to people who knew her. She just knew how to connect with people immediately. She didn’t require any warming up and neither did the other person.”
She was someone who really understood life and how to make the most of it.
Ron Zighelboim, husband.
Among her tasks at Royal Caribbean: She created brochures for the Latin American market, helped launch a new youth program and an onboard retail environment.
Royal Caribbean Cruises’ chief communications officer Rob Zeiger gives an example of how Zighelboim’s attention to detail was meticulous — sometimes to amusing effect.
“She had about 10 jobs, but one included helping some of our high-profile people we’d have endorse the ship, get off once we were ready to go sailing and they had to get back to shore. She was working with former NFL star Dhani Jones who had helped design some of our fitness programs. She’s walking him into the parking lot and Dhani hears a horn blowing.
“‘Do you think that might be for you?’ he asks her. She says, ‘I’m sure it’s not.’”
Of course, it was.
“She sprinted back for that ship,” Zeiger said, laughing. “She would have to swim for it had it gone a minute longer. Story has it she literally made a giant head-first-slide-into-second-base leap onto that gangway to make it back onto the ship. She was immediately dubbed with the nickname Zig-Zag Zighelboim.”
Born Nov. 27, 1966, in Tampa, Zighelboim earned her degree in communications at Florida State University in 1988. She also met her future husband at FSU when they were freshmen.
“It was barely a month after first meeting in 1986 that we learned of each other’s plans to visit friends in New Orleans for Mardi Gras,” Ron Zighelboim said in his eulogy. She hitched a ride with him across I-10. Finding her friend in the unfamiliar city, they figured, might be a bit tricky so they agreed to stop off at his buddy’s apartment first to get situated and then hand her off to her friend, Patricia.
“As fate would have it, we found Patricia sitting right there in my friend’s apartment. It turned out, they were next-door neighbors. The rest is history,” her husband said.
Zeiger lets you in on a secret: Zighelboim really wasn’t in too much danger of being stranded that day on the dock. All it would have taken was for word to get back to the captain, “It’s Jen Z,” and he’d have steered the ship around. “Because he knew her, too. He took pride in her.”
After all, every boat needs its star performer.
In addition to her husband and two sons, Zighelboim is survived by her parents Anthony and Nancy and brother Tony. Friends created a fund to help her boys with schooling. Donations can be made to the Touched by Jen Education Fund, c/o United Way of Miami Dade, 3250 SW Third Ave., Miami, FL 33129.