by Henry Lane Hull
To most of us February might not seem to be the usual time for a beach party, but not to Lee Lee Simpson. Last weekend at her dance studio in Bethesda, Md., she hosted another of her annual celebratory events for the youngsters in her charge, who are learning the rudiments of proper etiquette and social behavior.
The occasion offered all the trappings of a typical July afternoon on a crowded beach, except it was held indoors in the midst of an urban landscape. All the amenities were present, except for the beach itself.
Lee Lee’s students range from fourth through seventh graders, and her courses are known as Mrs. Simpson’s Classes. They are held on Friday evenings in a beautiful facility off River Road in the heart of Bethesda. The “Classes” are a family undertaking, with Lee Lee’s husband, Edmund, this time being in charge of inflating the balloons, and their son, Matt, running the overall operation of the studio.
Lee Lee is a native of the Northern Neck, having lived her early life in Weems. Edmund, a Washingtonian, came to the Northern Neck as a youth with his parents, who built a cottage on Carter Creek.
The most important result of the senior Simpsons coming here to vacation was the meeting of Lee Lee and Edmund. They have been married for over 50 years, and now for the past 37 years have conducted the widely renowned Classes that attract students from all across the Washington area. Many years ago I asked Lee Lee if she and Edmund conducted the dancing instructions themselves, to which she replied that they did not, with her own focus being on teaching proper manners.
The week before the beach party Lee Lee hosted a Super Bowl party for the Classes, with cookies and other delicious pastries in all forms of football décor, all of which were made in the Northern Neck. Each week from September through May the Classes guide students through the process of learning far more than how to dance, although that remains a vital part of the program. The same dance instructors have been with Lee Lee ever since the Classes began, for Lee Lee is one who likes continuity.
Whereas most people come to the Northern Neck on weekends, Lee Lee and Edmund usually are weekday residents, due to the weekends being the times they are absorbed with the Classes. At dinner time they are regular denizens at one of the front tables at Lee’s Restaurant, and when not here, they often are in Charlottesville where Edmund must be counted among the most persistently loyal alumni of the University of Virginia and its greatest athletic booster.
UVA football and basketball are as much staples of their daily living as the meals at Lee’s. Edmund rarely appears in public without being attired in blue and orange, letting everyone he meets know the level of his commitment to his alma mater. Edmund is the ideal UVA ambassador, spreading the school’s achievements far and wide.
When we had a second home in King George County, I found myself challenged going back and forth between the two, but Lee Lee and Edmund continue to enjoy their regular hops in the broad loop from Chevy Chase to Weems to Charlottesville. I admire their stamina, which seems to be endless.
My lasting memory of Lee Lee will be from a talk she gave at the funeral for her brother, Lemuel Ashburn, six years ago. To state it as cogently as possible, she is purely Northern Neck.
As she spoke, I thought that knowing her was to know the Northern Neck, our history, our present and what we can hope for our future. Happily, despite her transition to the megalopolis of Washington, the roots of her heritage have not been diminished. On to the next beach party!