About Ro, the Person
Ro Lebedow's active personal life mirrors her life as a 24/7 businesswoman.
Residence: Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood. "I've
lived in Bucktown for almost two decades and love it! It has given
me the opportunity to watch, up close and personal, as Chicago
has grown into the truly world-class city it is today."
Favorite Chicago Activities: Discovering the New –
restaurants, boutiques, theater; Savoring the Classics –
Millennium Park, the Cultural Center, the opera, the symphony,
the museums, the jazz and blues clubs. Favorite Sports:
swimming and windsurfing. "I was an avid runner and once
completed the Chicago Marathon, but an injured knee put an end
to that. Thankfully a new knee enables me to swim, windsurf, bike
and continue to work out – usually with my husband."
Favorite Getaway: Harbert, Michigan. "We have a
little place there – just an hour and a half away from the
city. A gift to my soul no matter what the season. Favorite
Destinations: "I've traveled the world over and loved
it, but – when business permits – I keep returning
to New York City for about a week in October, and to Tulum, Mexico
for nine or ten days in February. Most Favorite of All:
"My family and my friends."
About Ro, A True Story from The Reader
ALL IS NOT LOST
A devastating mistake, a hopeful vigil, and the kindness of
By Curt Snodgrass
This is a story about doing good. Not the selfless Mother Teresa
kind. Or the win-win, oh-let's-go-to-that-fund-raiser, the-food-will-be-superb-and-it'll-be-good-for-business
It's about making one of those oh-shit-what'll-I-do-now decisions.
You want to do the right thing, but (a) what is the right thing?
and (b) do you really have the time and energy to do it? It's
about a random act of goodness. The kind that could be news, except
for an oversupply of random acts of badness. (Let's not name them
By late April 2001, Boba Nestorovic--a civil engineer who works
in Chicago--has planned her May trip back home to Belgrade, with
stops in between, in pointed detail. She'll be gone for a month.
Her itinerary will take her through Spain and Portugal. She'll
link up with a group of friends from Chicago in Amsterdam, and
they'll fly together back to their homeland. Her first visit in
Of course you don't arrive from the land of milk and honey empty-handed.
Boba has a big family. She needs lots of gifts. Special gifts
she couldn't find or afford back home. As luck would have it,
in late April and early May Chicago is a shopper's paradise. Lots
of preseason sales and juicy bargains. Boba watches for sales.
Hits the malls. Rummages through a multitude of little shops.
Early and--this is Chicago, after all--often.
It's not irrelevant at this point to say a little more about Boba.
She came here as an exchange student three years ago. Graduated
from Bradley University, class of 2000. Her English, despite her
protestations, is fluent. Slightly--you might even say delightfully--accented.
She comes from a family brain-deep in advanced degrees (architecture,
engineering, law). Her father is a microbiologist. She grew up
surrounded by violins, pianos, cantatas, mazurkas, string quartets.
Her dazzling dark eyes, her stunning smile, and her almost transmittable
energy commend her upbringing.
If you're Boba, you're a seasoned world traveler. You know it's
best to choose gifts that won't weigh you down physically or trigger
red lights at border checkpoints. Ideally they should all fit
into something that provides easy access and zero temptation to
bored customs inspectors. So you choose a sturdy black shopping
bag you picked up at the Limited. With care and love, you fold
the shirts and scarves and toys, wrap them in tissue, and seal
them with sticky labels on which you print each recipient's name.
You place the heavy stuff in the bottom of the bag, slip in your
graduation program, then layer the clothing items carefully, one
on top of the other, till the bag is full.
Very full. You imagine lugging it from one airline boarding gate
to another halfway across the world. Stuffing it into a succession
of already engorged overhead compartments, cheek by jowl with
god knows what. But, you think, that's life.
Then, what luck! Your friends leaving before you offer to take
your bag with them. So on Sunday, April 29, around noon, you gratefully
commend your precious gift bag to their care and wish them bon
On that very same Sunday, around noon, Chicago realtor Ro Lebedow
is late. The open house for her listing in Lakeview runs from
one to three. She'll have to fight traffic to get there from Bucktown.
Fifteen minutes on a good day. But today it's bumper-to-bumper
combat. Ashland's torn up. Damen's a parking lot. And she's got
five sandwich boards to plant on prominent street corners.
Ro runs out the door.
"You always try to do too damn much," the author of this story
barks unhelpfully after her.
Down four flights to her garage (elevator's too slow). She heaves
the signs into the trunk of her black 1995 Avalon and speeds away.
She checks her watch. Just five minutes to go. Parking's impossible
on Oakdale, but her karma's working. There's a spot. She rushes
to pull the signs from her trunk.
But wait. What's that at the curb? A black shopping bag from the
Limited, full of stuff. She glances around. Pedestrians pass.
Anyone forget a package? No eye contact.
Ro checks the bag. Scarves, shirts, kids' toys. All have name
tags. Hmmm. Written in Cyrillic. Gifts. It's a bag of gifts! But
no ID. What does she do now?
"Leave it there. Whoever forgot it will come back for it," says
one part of her brain.
"But someone's going to steal it," whispers a little street-smart
"What should I do?" Ro asks a passing stranger.
Damned if she knows, and anyway she's in a hurry.
Three minutes to one and four more signs to plunk down. Ro stashes
the shopping bag in the trunk of her car. Scribbles a note and
tapes it to the car window facing the sidewalk: "Found: a shopping
bag. If it's yours, call me." She adds her cell phone number.
If no one responds, she'll search through the bag when she gets
home, and with a little luck and a little deductive reasoning
she'll identify the owner. Get it back into its rightful hands.
It's the least she can do.
It is not irrelevant to the story to say a little more now about
Ro Lebedow. She's a Chicago native (South Shore High School class
of '57). Her eight grandchildren call her Bubbe, and her specialty
is taking them on "adventures" to the Art Institute, the Field
Museum, the CSO. She completed the 1984 Chicago Marathon. Last
year's arthroscopic surgery on her left knee means only that instead
of running four days a week, she swims at least that many days
at East Bank. She keeps a windsurfing board at Wilmette's sailing
beach. She has an uncanny knack for finding loose change on the
street, which she saves in a "lucky money" box till she accumulates
enough cash to buy a special delight (a wind chime from a vendor
in New York City; a jack-in-the-box at a street fair in the walled
Tuscan city of Lucca). She's sold residential real estate in Chicago
for 14 years.
Two hours (and 45 handshakes and attempts to be charming) later,
Ro's open house is over. No one has responded to the note on her
"Hi! I'm home!"
"I found it on the street."
Carefully, Ro removes and inspects each item. Each is labeled,
but with a first name only. Not a hint of ownership.
"Look how beautifully, how lovingly they're wrapped," Ro says.
A few clothing tags proclaim their origins. The Gap. Banana Republic.
Ro phones the stores. Lots of sympathy, but lots of "See, if you
don't have a sales slip, there's no way we can trace which store
they were bought at..."
What about this? A graduation program from Bradley University.
Maybe whoever owns the package is mentioned in the program. But
there are hundreds of names, none circled, underlined, or marked
in any way.
Monday morning Ro phones Bradley University. Talks with security.
No, no one has reported a lost bag of gifts, but maybe the editor
of the college newspaper can print a story on it and the owner
will read it.
The editor calls back. "Why would you go to so much trouble to
find the owner?" she asks.
"How could I not?" Ro answers.
She phones the police. No, nobody reported such a bag missing.
"But if you bring it in," etcetera.
Right. And then what?
Ro sticks the bag in a corner while she tries to figure out what
to do next.
Two days after Boba's friends pick up her bag of gifts, she gets
a phone call. It's Natasha (not her real name).
A strange silence. Then, "Boba. I'm afraid we have some bad news."
"Oh my god! Someone is sick! Hurt! Worse!
"I feel so bad, I couldn't tell you right away. But I must."
Boba's heart sinks.
"Your gifts, Boba. We lost them."
Later, Boba would say she was overcome by two waves of emotion.
The first was relief. No one was hurt after all. No one had died.
But then: What? You lost my gifts? "All of them?"
"The whole bag. I'm so sorry! We feel so bad. We must have left
Anger? Yes, of course. Yet, Boba tells herself, no one is perfect.
But the gifts! There's no time left to replace them. And there's
the problem of money. Not a huge sum, but for her, just out of
college? It was a stretch the first time around. Besides, the
preseason bargains are gone.
And what about her enthusiasm? The spark that sent her on the
buying spree? She searches her heart for it, but it's been sucked
into the same black hole where her gifts now reside.
"Boba? What's wrong? Why are you crying?" asks Joe, her building's
(>> on the right)