The ‘joyfully irascible’ Louise van Dort, 69

Her friends say that if you wanted something done – and it didn’t involve suffering fools gladly – there was no better way to get it done than to ask for Louise van Dort’s help.

Van Dort, 69, died Sunday at Jackson House Assisted Living near her home in Scrabble. She had suffered a debilitating stroke last year.

Louise van Dort
Louise van Dort

Best known for the last decade as the proprietor of BlueRidgeMac, the Apple-authorized computer store and service shop she opened in Woodville’s former country store in 2003 (with another shop in Harrisonburg), van Dort came to Rappahannock County in the late 1980s. By 1996, her work with many local community and charitable organizations earned her recognition as the Rappahannock News’ Citizen of the Year.

Quoted by then-editor Sharon Kilpatrick in the Citizen of the Year article that ran Jan. 1, 1997, Ray Gooch – who had served with van Dort on the Washington Town Council and remained her friend till the end – said: “She expects of her friends what she gives herself. She gives the best of her ability and talent and strength and courage. Not many can live up to this high a standard. If she’s going to do something, she does the best she possibly can. She’s an incredible person.”

Van Dort lived in Washington, serving on the council and as town treasurer, overseeing renovations of the town hall after the library moved out. She was an active volunteer with many local organizations, most notably the Child Care and Learning Center, but also the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community, the Friends of the Rappahannock Library and the Rappahannock Historical Society.

Through her company Hospitality Design Inc., she worked as special projects coordinator in the late 1990s for the Inn at Little Washington.

Her work for the Inn was, said Inn chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell, “a convenient arrangement since she lived just across the street . . . at the time. She specialized in accomplishing the impossible and was a skilled negotiator who had a talent for slicing through red tape.”

She supervised construction of the Inn’s Presidential Cottage and worked on the restaurant’s commercial kitchen addition, which included work on the two suites upstairs and the conversion of the old kitchen into a living room space.

“All this was accomplished while the Inn remained opened every night,” O’Connell said. “It was a colorful adventure . . . One of her more remarkable achievements was to negotiate with the Virginia Department of Transportation the return of a corner of land in the center of town to Trinity Episcopal Church. We were then able to landscape it and place a fountain and bench where there had been only asphalt before. That project made the town center a much safer place for pedestrians attempting to cross the street.”

O’Connell, like many who’d come to know van Dort, called her “one of those rare personalities who spoke her mind fearlessly and was strongly opinionated on most subjects. She valued common sense and had a low tolerance for southern hypocrisies. While she could be a sharp critic, her diatribes were tempered with a wonderful sense of humor and a delicious appreciation for the absurd.

“Anyone who knew her well soon became aware that behind all her bravado, body armor and cigarette smoke, was a caring, nurturing woman with a heart of gold,” he said. “She and her unique perspective will be missed by all who knew her.”

Middleton Inn owner and Washington Town Council member Mary Ann Kuhn recalls the first time she met van Dort – walking by as van Dort was supervising the Trinity parking lot landscaping. “I introduced myself and said I had bought the Maples [as Middleton Inn was then known] and had just moved to town,” Kuhn said. “She shook my hand and said, ‘I’m Louise van Dort, the pit bull for the Inn at Little Washington.’ ” Shortly thereafter, Kuhn hired her to work on renovations at her new B&B.

“Louise was an amazing human being and a powerhouse in so many ways,” said Sperryville glass blower Eric Kvarnes, who competed with van Dort over the years for the unofficial title of Rappahannock’s most-knowledgeable Macintosh expert. In a post to the Rappnet email list-serve after news of her passing spread, he wrote: “As brash as she could be at times, she was wonderful and had a huge heart.”

“She’ll be missed,” said CCLC director Rose Ann Smythe, noting that van Dort was a longtime Friend of CCLC – “with a capital F” – and put in many hours of time over the years to help keep the center going. “She was a very hard worker and she had a good heart that she hid behind a shield of steel.”

Rev. Jennings Hobson, pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, where van Dort was a parishioner, said: “She was a piece of work, she was unique, she was joyfully irascible – and she had a heart of gold.” He added: “She just didn’t want anyone to know.”

Van Dort turned over ownership of BlueRidgeMac to employees John Switzer and Jennings Hobson Jr., Switzer said Tuesday. The plan is to keep the business going, he said.

Van Dort was born July 19, 1943 in Wassenaar, Holland, the daughter of the late Johan Jan van Dort and Mimi Hammer van Dort. During World War II, her father was executed in her presence in the yard of their home for his work with the underground that helped German Jews escape Europe.

She came to the U.S. one summer as a university student and worked as an au pair in Boston, and later, in the mid 1960s, emigrated under the sponsorship of Ed Clark, a Life magazine photographer who’d also served as White House photographer for President John F. Kennedy.

After a career with Hilton Hotels in administrative positions in Washington, Colorado and California, she created Hospitality Design Inc., which helped plan and design hotel facilities throughout the U.S.

Her friends say that a memorial service is being planned for spring, and will be announced at a later date. Donations may be made to the Child Care and Learning Center (P.O. Box 520, Washington, VA 22747).

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.