Memories of Don Van Leuven

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Don Van Leuven at the McCalls' 25th anniversary party in 1997. Courtesy: Celeste McCall

The Hill has lost a loved resident. Donald Van Leuven (October 8, 1955 – November 16, 2022) died unexpectedly on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, a little more than a month after his 67th birthday.

Van Leuven is survived by his wife, Ann; his sister, Phyllis Britton and brother, Richard and nephews, Mark and Paul Van Leuven and Matthew and Michael Taranto.

According to his Post obituary, Van Leuven graduated from high school in New York state. He later received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Protection from the University of Maryland. He went on to work for more than 20 years at the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) as a Fire Inspector. He and Ann have lived on the Hill for more than 30 years.

The folowing is a remembrance from Peter McCall. He and his wife, Celeste, were friends with the Van Leuvens. [ed.]

Celeste and I first met Don and Ann at least 30 years ago when we used to hang out with a tight-knit gang of friends at Capitol Hill watering holes.  We often imbibed at the old Greek Taverna (now We the Pizza), the Tune Inn or Hawk ‘n Dove. Don and I liked a frosty brew while Celeste and Ann preferred red wine.

Don was good-natured, jovial, and dependable. He was especially devoted to his wife, family and close friends. When our dear friend Susan Heffron died suddenly in 2006, Don spent the night at her grieving widower’s home to comfort and console him.

As a DC building fire inspector for two decades, Don cautioned us against using real candles on our Christmas tree. He even frowned on our candlelit dinners.  We shared many a holiday feast with Don and Ann in their condo on D Street SE; I don’t recall any candles at their table.  In 1998, we traveled to Greece with our “gang” of friends, including Don and Ann and the late Susan and Bill.

Don was a magnet for making new friends, whether homeless citizens or members of Congress. He sometimes held court at the Eastern Market picnic tables to entertain new friends, often homeless passers-by. He often darkened the doors of Bullfeathers, La Plaza, and the local American Legion post, where he hollered out Bingo numbers on Saturday evenings.

Omnipresent, Don was beloved in the Hill community as well as in Prince Georges County where he served as a volunteer firefighter for many years. A large contingent of his uniformed colleagues turned out for his special firefighter’s memorial service November 30 in Hyattsville. We learned new things about him—especially his life beyond Capitol Hill. Heartfelt eulogies by siblings traced his boyhood in upstate New York, while top PG County firefighters applauded his professional leadership in suburban Maryland. Don moved to the DC area to study fire protection at the University of Maryland.

At Don’s memorial celebration, his brother told us, “I know Don is in Heaven now because the Devil wouldn’t let him in Hell for fear he would put out the fire.”