Real Housewife Ramona Singer recently returned from a four-country tour of Africa. She toured as part of a group supporting AfricaFoundation.org, whose mission is to empower people in poverty-stricken countries via education, healthcare and sustainable, income-generating activities. Ramona supports other charities, too, but this recent excursion was both surprising and revelatory. When she saw the living conditions the children were made to endure, Ramona was saddened. “People living in third-world countries need more than money to be helped. The kids need an education, most of all, and one of the things AfricaFoundation.org does is build schools from nursery through primary and secondary levels,” she says. “It’s incredible.” Ramona was invited to participate in the trip by a friend, Krista Krieger, the Chairman of AfricaFoundation.org. The group visited five schools in four countries. “We built a kitchen so the children could have fresh food every day. A healthy body creates a healthy mind,” she says. “Some of the schools even have gardens.”
Ramona spent those two weeks in Africa away from husband Mario and daughter Avery – something she’d never done before to such an extent. And, she traveled with eight other women of whom she knew only one. “I was a little nervous at first but it was a life-changing experience,” she admits. “Just to be so close to nature, the air was so fresh, to see the lions and cubs and elephants. It was amazing. If I were an animal, I’d definitely be a zebra because they’re social, they’re smart, they hang out in packs with giraffes who can see oncoming danger and they’re chic. They stand out in the crowd!”
The most amazing part of the journey for Ramona was speaking with the children who seemed happy despite their circumstances. “These children don’t have what we have and yet they’re always happy and smiling,” she says. “It showed me that money really can’t make you happy if you’re not happy within yourself. You could see it in the faces of the children how happy they were just to be in a school, learning, and on their way to having a better future. So many people in America are driven by making money. I’m not saying that I don’t like to be successful because I do, but it’s not the end all. Health and happiness are more important than money.”
Ramona’s success was a journey of its own. She grew up in Dutchess County, NY, the oldest of four children (she has one brother and two sisters) with a father who had an abusive temperament, particularly toward her mother. As a result, Ramona felt like a caretaker. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and graduated with a four-year business degree in fashion before working in the industry for Macy’s, Calvin Klein and French Connection. When she was 30, she started her business with a $70,000 loan from her father. “It was the only good thing he’d ever done for me,” she says. “I paid him back, in full, with interest, within a month.”
Ramona’s business (as a fashion distributor) is now a multi-million-dollar enterprise. It was in the early years of her business that Ramona met and married Mario and eventually had Avery, who’s now 15. Her segue into the world of reality TV occurred after a series of twists and turns. If you’re wondering how one becomes a Real Housewife, in Ramona’s case, she was spotted on another woman’s demo tape about Manhattan moms. Ramona had no intention of going on the show but had done the demo tape as a way to record herself with Avery for posterity. “I just wanted the DVD,” she explains. “I loved the way they captured Avery and me. It’s adorable.” (See Avery and Ramona Welcome You to Their Manhattan Apartment! on YouTube.). When Ramona’s friend, Dr. Sharon Giese, mentioned that casting was underway for a new reality show, Ramona’s initial response was that she had no time. Bravo pursued and eventually, Ramona acquiesced, with the condition she could bring her True Faith Jewelry line along for the ride. Although, as she points out, the show is just a glimpse of who she really is. “They don’t show all sides of me,” she says. “But overall, the show has been great and the best thing for my business. The only downside is a lack of privacy at times.”
While we’re on the phone chatting, Ramona tells me she’s packing for the Hamptons, shaving her legs and preparing for her August 11th HSN jewelry show. Apparently, having it all requires doing it all and sometimes, doing it all all at once. Ramona’s business has grown over the last 20 years and thanks to the show, in new directions. “It got my creative juices flowing,” she says. She’d begun the True Faith Jewelry line with Mario through his family’s fourth generation jewelry business and then launched Tru Renewal, a natural, eco-friendly skin care line made with green algae (a rich source of vitamin C and other antioxidants).
Ramona’s “personal renewal” began two Christmases ago when Mario convinced her to invite her father to celebrate Christmas with the family. Years before, when Mario’s father had passed away and his mother needed help, she lived with the family for 10 years until her death—family was important. As it turned out, Ramona had a great time with her father that Christmas and was sad to see him leave. “I forgave him,” she says. “He died two weeks later.” The reconciliation was cathartic as was watching herself on TV. Together, these things catalyzed the renewal she talks about. “I’m more understanding and not so sharp with my tongue. I’m still open and outgoing but I’m more edited and softer now.”
Ramona’s new line of estate-inspired jewelry launches on Wednesday, August 11th on HSN with whom she has partnered. The new line includes pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings. Pieces are priced from $159 to $600. “They have a red carpet or estate feel and estate jewelry will always be in style. Women will always wear it,” Ramona says. “They can pass these pieces down through the generations.”
Signature pieces in the collection are Cuff Bracelets, one in Turquoise and Sky Blue Topaz with Diamonds ($399) and another dainty Diamond Textured model ($299). One particularly exquisite piece (though rather more expensive) is the Large Hoop Earring set with 1ct. of Diamonds ($549). The target audience is the everyday woman. “It’s great quality and when you wear one of these pieces, it completely changes the outfit,” she says. “You can wear it with a dress or jeans. You can wear it everyday. They’re investment pieces, always in style but without the Madison Avenue prices.”
The Real Housewives of New York City is just a narrow window into Ramona’s world. “There’s a lot people don’t know about me,” she says. “I can decorate, landscape, do construction. I’m a great cook and I can whip up a dinner for 24 people.”
Ramona says she makes a delicious tuna sashimi with grapefruit by slicing fresh tuna thinly and squeezing fresh lime and grapefruit juices over the tuna slices. She shreds a few grapefruit sections (peeled) over the tuna and adds sliced cherry tomatoes and cilantro. The acid from the citrus cooks the tuna. The longer it sits, the more it cooks. “It’s beyond delicious,” she says.
Filming for The Real Housewives of New York City typically takes place from September to December so we’ll have to wait and see what next season will reveal. I ask about the possibility of a Ramona brand Pinot Grigio, in the meantime. “It’s certainly not out of the question,” she laughs. “Maybe.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions:
Favorite Place to Eat: The Standard Grill
Favorite Place to Shop: Bergdorf’s
Favorite New York Sight: The Boathouse in Central Park
Favorite New York Moment: Every New York moment!
What You Love About New York: The energy! And you never feel alone
What You Hate About New York: The way it smells in extreme heat
For more information about AfricaFoundation.org, please visit www.AfricaFoundation.org
For more information on True Faith Jewelry, please visit www.TrueFaithJewelry.com
For more information on Tru Renewal Skincare, please visit www.RamonaSinger.com
For more information or to purchase Ramona Singer Jewelry for HSN, please visit www.hsn.com
Photo of Ramona, Mario and Avery at Ramona and Mario’s Vow Renewal Ceremony by Rob Rich