Melissa McDowell Stevens was born August 24, 1949; the eldest of two, to naval Captain Joseph Matthew McDowell, and Diantha Hamilton McDowell in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Never a woman to be predictable, growing up, Melissa developed a lifelong passion for needlepoint, bridge and cooking, alongside a sharpshooting skill that brought home several gold medals. After her father’s final posting at the Naval Observatory, the family settled permanently in Alexandria, VA, where she graduated from St Agnes School. During her senior year she flew to New York for a blind date with a cadet at West Point. After a last-minute unexpected switch, she ended up on a date with Shelby Stevens and the rest is history. They dated during her two years at Pine Manor in Boston and continued when she transferred to Sweet Briar College in Virginia. After graduation, Melissa returned to Alexandria to work as an assistant and office manager while Shelby was deployed to Vietnam.
Shelby returned from Vietnam in the Spring of ’72, proposing in September. They were married on December 28th, 1972 and embarked on a nearly 48 year-long adventure. Over the course of her life she developed a reputation for being a strong, passionate women of refined taste and traditional elegance who had the ability to get things done, no matter what the obstacle. The queen of organization, Lissa arranged 22 moves in 28 years during her time as a military spouse, all the while balancing career, growing family, and responsibilities as an army wife. While Shelby was at Ft. Bragg, she started a 15 year career as a math and computer science teacher where she excelled. She welcomed her first child, Brian, into the world in 1976, who was followed every 5 years in ‘81, ‘86, and ’91 by Sean, Kevin and finally her long awaited little girl, Ashley. During this time the family bounced between North Carlina, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, New York and Virginia. Somehow, Melissa found the time to apply to be the guest teacher on board the space shuttle Challenger. After making it through several rounds, Melissa thankfully withdrew from the interview process on discovering she was pregnant with Kevin. Taking a break from teaching, Melissa reentered the corporate world in Columbus, Georgia where she was offered a Vice Presidency at Aflac. She turned it down, however; not wanting to make a commitment that would take her away from her growing family.
A dedicated homemaker and hostess, she put these skills to great use when Shelby’s position took the family overseas. She developed a reputation as an elegant society hostess in Diplomatic circles in Canberra, Australia and Paris, France. Her work was recognized by the Defense Intelligence Agency with a citation for Outstanding Service Rendered to the United States of America.
Melissa’s pride and joy were her children and her home. She worked tirelessly to support and nurture the talents and vastly different interests of her children, encouraging them to follow their passions and to find their own paths. In between her various jobs, and military duties, she made time for involvement in all of her children’s schools and made sure that each one never felt neglected or lost. On returning to Alexandria from Paris, after Shelby’s retirement from active duty, Melissa threw herself into creating a permanent family home; the culmination of 30 years of travel and accumulated memories. A place for her family to settle and truly call home.
She spent her retirement years enjoying the family that meant so much to her. Ever the planner, she was continuously organizing and outlining “the next event”; whether it was a wedding, a birthday, a holiday, or the next vacation. Her joy was in bringing the family together and making sure it was the best possible gathering that could be had. She was the heart and soul of the Stevens family.
Melissa is survived by her husband, Shelby; sister, Debbie; sons, Brian, Sean, and Kevin; daughter, Ashley; grandson, Trayce; as well as many cousins, nephews, nieces and dear friends. She will live on in their hearts and her memory will be cherished forever. She was a force of nature that leaves behind a legacy of love, strength, taste, and elegance that will be carried forward by all who loved her. She will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 2021, with a Celebration of Life to follow in the late summer.
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