WASHINGTON (JTA) — Roberta “Bobbie” King almost wasn’t teaching English at the American Civic Association building in Binghamton, N.Y., on the Friday afternoon of April 3. When full-time teacher Elisabeth Hayes needed a substitute so that she could celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary that day, the 72-year-old King hesitated at first because she needed to spend time preparing for Passover.
But Hayes said King couldn’t turn down a chance to help out.
“She was very interested in my ESL class and whenever I went away she was the first person I would want to come,” Hayes told the New York Daily News. “She had an ability to be understanding to the students and I knew that my students would be safe and well taken care of with her,” she said.
King was one of 13 people who were killed when a gunmen entered the civic center and opened fire on the citizenship class King was teaching. Jiverly Voong, a Vietnamese immigrant, was reportedly upset after losing his job a few weeks ago and killed himself after the rampage.
Funeral services were held Monday afternoon at Temple Concord in Binghamton for the mother of 10 and grandmother of 17, who is being remembered as someone who had lots of friends and loved to help others.
“I believe that Bobbie had more genuine friends than anyone I know,” Brenda Margolis, a friend for 30 years, told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.
“She impacted a lot of lives because of her very warm, very upbeat, kind disposition and her many interests,” Margolis said. “Everyone loved her.”
“Her strength came from her gentle kindness,” another longtime friend, Beverly Hirsch, told the paper. “Never critical. Never negative.”
Rivkah Slonim, education director at Chabad-Lubavitch of Binghamton, said that her first experience with King came at a 1985 Hadassah dinner shortly after her arrival in Binghamton.
“Bobbie, who had prepared the delicious dinner for 200 women, also chaired the event in her inimitably vibrant style,” Slonim said to Chabad.org. “Although we did not meet until later, I always felt that her humor and infectious good cheer were a perfect welcome.
“When the woman sitting next to me whispered that she was the mother of 10 children,” Slonim said, “I immediately accorded her hero status.”
King grew up in Syracuse, where she met her late husband, physician Abraham King, before moving to Binghamton more than 40 years ago. The couple had sent all 10 of their children to college, five of them to Cornell University.
The Syracuse Post-Standard noted that King was known for her extensive doll collection numbering in the thousands and that she donated them every year to be used in the Chanukah museum at Temple Concord — where some are on permanent display. In addition to volunteering at the synagogue, she also helped out at the local library and was a docent at a Binghamton-area musuem.
King was a substitute teacher at Binghamton High School in addition to teaching a summer English class at the American Civic Association.
Her son Jeffrey King, a Binghamton-area surgeon, told the Daily News that his mother immensely enjoyed teaching that English class.
“She loved the students there,” he said. “She loved to learn about their cultures.”
And retirement was not something she thought about, King said, recounting a recent conversation he had with his mother on that subject to the Associated Press.
“I said, ‘Mom you’re in your 70s,”‘ King said. “She said, ‘What? You don’t think I enjoy working?”