Friends say their final farewells to Bobby, champion of the Heath

A CELEBRATION of Heath Hands founder Bobby de Joia s life will be held at Burgh House in New End Square, Hampstead on Saturday. The dynamo behind the voluntary group has died at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer

Tan Parsons

A CELEBRATION of Heath Hands founder Bobby de Joia's life will be held at Burgh House in New End Square, Hampstead on Saturday (March 15).

The "dynamo" behind the voluntary group has died at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer.

The regular columnist for the Ham&High, died on Tuesday morning. She was best known as the driving force behind Heath Hands - set up in 1999 to help conserve the special character of Hampstead Heath.

She was an energetic campaigner throughout her life and was director of external communications at Middlesex University. Plans were afoot to make her a Freeman of the City of London.

Her daughter, Amy de Joia, said: "She loved people, she loved Hampstead and she loved being part of the community. Mum loved writing for the Ham&High - she loved working with those journalists. She would always be agonising over what to write. She was a very dynamic mum - she saw the best in people and was always trying to make things better."

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Roberta Joan Zimmer was born in New York on January 18 in 1932. Her father, a printer of Romanian descent, died when she was six and she was raised by her mother along with her elder sister Faith.

After graduating from Syracuse University she became a journalist and was one of the only female reporters at the Long Island Press in New York throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She met her husband Alex de Joia after a mutual friend recommended him as a French teacher. They fell in love and were married in 1953, although she never learned French.

Their daughter Amy was born in 1962 and five years later the family moved to England when Mr de Joia was awarded a two-year linguistics research placement at University College London.

They travelled to the UK by boat and settled in Hampstead after reading about it in the States. Ms de Joia took a job at Hornsey College of Art where she was a teacher of fashion journalism.

Their first Hampstead home was in Oak Hill Park, and they later moved to the Vale of Health. After Mr de Joia died in 2004, his wife moved to Streatley Place.

At this point she poured her energies into fundraising, generating almost £100,000 towards the establishment of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, in which her daughter was also instrumental. Amy is still its Executive Director of Development and Communications.

Amy added: "She was a member of so many different groups like Heath Hands and the Hampstead Conservation Area Advisory Committee. After my father died she became very involved int the Royal Free Hospital's Patient and Public Involvement Forum."

Former vice chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society Jeremy Wright said: "I'm extremely sad and it will be a tremendous loss. She was a little dynamo of an American woman - she was very loveable."

Heath superintendent Simon Lee said: "This is very, very sad. It's completely unexpected. We have lost another of the area's great stalwarts."

Ham&High editor Geoff Martin said: ''Bobby had a big personality and great powers of persuasion. I went to see her once at Kenwood and she wanted to know why the pictures in her column were not in colour, while others were. Two weeks later her pictures were indeed, printed in colour. She was very pleased.''

Ms de Joia is survived by her daughter Amy, her sister Faith and her grandchildren Jack and Tom.

The ceremony will take place between 2.30pm and 4.30pm and there will be a tribute to Ms de Joia at 3pm. Her family kindly requests family flowers only.

Contributions to Heath Hands, the International Slavery Museum and Marie Curie Cancer Care will be welcome.