Doorn van Steÿn, former Falls Church resident and mother/grandmother to locals Shaun and Simon van Steÿn, passed away on Monday, August 23.
Hundreds of pages wouldn’t be enough to tell the many tales of her lives in England, Israel, many other parts of the world and here in the Washington area. She lived a storied life filled with rich anecdotes, colorful characters, and unique backdrops. Indeed, many that came to know her over the years felt that her life story had all the making of a Hollywood movie.
As it turns out it was her that had dreams of the Big Screen at an early age. The daughter of two artistic parents, she began ice skating, acting, and modeling while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London.
But then there was the war. At the age of 18 when World War II began, she, along with many Londoners endured the hardships, sacrifices, and sorrows of war. Despite the obliteration of large swathes of the city due to Hitler’s V2 bombs, one bright point for her family during this period was the birth of her first son, Shaun. Shaun’s father was a highly decorated Dutch bomber pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF). He ultimately flew 88 missions over Germany. Due to the strains placed on their relationship because of the war, they separated and continued their different lives.
Doorn returned to her acting studies. Despite not having two Shillings to rub together, she was young and right in the middle of the social milieu of post-war London. And she lived life to the fullest: ice skating revues, theatre performances, and the social life afforded by a world class metropolis, gave her some of her happiest days.
She went on to marry fellow RADA student Roger Moore (of James Bond fame), but after eight years of marriage, their careers and interests had diverged too far for them to remain happily married. After their divorce, Doorn continued to tour with her skating revue. While performing in Israel, she met an Israeli Army officer named Ami Solell. They immediately hit it off, eventually staying in Israel, marrying Ami, and starting a whole new life in a nation that was all of five years old at the time. Shaun came to live with them two years later in 1955.
The early years of “pioneer life” in Israel were defined by unimaginable challenges and political and social struggles, but also filled with a strong sense of community and optimism. It was there that her second son, Jody, was born and she would remain in this enchanted land for 14 years. Following the break-up of her marriage to Ami, she came to Washington, DC in 1967. Shortly thereafter she met the love of her life Ronald Hodge, and they were wed in 1970. They took up residence in “Carl’s Castle” on Cameron Road in Falls Church. The stone castle-like home was built around an enormous barn that was rumored to have been where George Washington stabled his horse when he traveled here to attend the Falls Church. The castle featured a draw bridge, a second floor suspended by chains, hidden passageways, and a pet fox. Unfortunately, the house burned down on New Year’s Day 1976, due to an arcing of an electrical wire and inadequate pressure in the street’s fire hydrants.
Following this devastating event, Doorn and Ronald moved to Aldie, then Bluemont, Va. at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There they commenced turning a run-down pre-Civil War Presidential retreat, army barracks and children’s home into an imaginative dwelling, complete with a medieval room, eclectic furnishings, dogs, cats and a peacock. Befitting this somewhat regal, somewhat rustic abode, Doorn gave their home the exotic name of Chateau Fontaine Bleau.
In her later years she continued her artistic pursuits by becoming a part-time professional photographer with National Geographic and a stained glass artisan. She was a renowned host of summer soirees and Christmas parties, and could often be found at the National Press Club at any number of events. She would become one of the esteemed Silver Owls, signifying 25+ years as a member of the Press Club.
Interwoven with all of the glamour, intrigue, and extraordinary flourishes, there was a strong-spirited, passionate woman, whose insistence on living life on her own terms was almost unheard of in her day. Her razor-sharp wit, her exceptional command of the English language (and fluency in French, Spanish, and Hebrew), combined with her effervescent and charming personality opened doors to rarefied settings and diverse social circles.
Though she seemed larger than life, at the heart of it all, she was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She will be dearly missed by many, here and abroad. She is survived by her husband Ronald, her mother-in-law Lucille, her sons Shaun and Jody, daughters-in-law Joan and Carmela, grandchildren Simon, Pele, and Kesem, and many relatives throughout the world.