Like a lot of World War II veterans, Dorothy Steele didn't talk much about her service and said almost nothing about what must have been a fascinating job — translating codes for the Allied forces.
She didn't reveal any wartime secrets to her son Richard, and she certainly kept mum when I asked in an interview a couple of years ago.
Instead, Dorothy closed the book on those stories when she drew her last breath last Thursday. She died at age 95, having lived a long and colorful life that included wartime service in her native England and a full life in Omaha.
A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church at 84th and Pacific Streets.
"She had a good run," Richard Steele said.
Dorothy was born in London in 1920. On her 18th birthday, she joined a then-new branch of the British Army, called the Auxiliary
Territorial Service, and was among the first British women to serve in World War II. She served in a number of roles: orderly, cook and switchboard operator. She later was assigned to Whitehall, the brains of the British war machine, where she worked as a cryptographer, translating codes.
She later was transferred to Washington, D.C., arriving in the U.S. by steamship and feeling guilty about the comparative luxury she had in America while her family, back in London, suffered under strict rations. She met a soldier, Elery Steele, whom she called Roy. Though their wartime service separated them — he served in North Africa and Italy; she went back to London — they later married and returned to the United States.
They eventually settled in Omaha, where Roy was an economics professor and later department head at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He died in 1998.
Dorothy was a homemaker who had three sons, as well as a daughter who died within a week of being born. She got involved with costuming and theater at the Omaha Community Playhouse and threw herself into volunteer work at St. Andrew's, which runs a thrift store called the Nearly New Shop. She volunteered there for more than 50 years.
Her vision began failing a couple of years ago, though when I met her she was still going strong. She had moved into a retirement home but had made us a pot of tea, naturally. And she told stories with crystal clarity of her wartime service — minus potentially juicy code-deciphering details.
I had begged for information — what kind of codes had she deciphered? Allied? Axis? Did she break any big German messages?
Dorothy was ever stalwart.
"No," she had said in her English accent, adding: "I wouldn't say so if I did!"
Richard said both of his parents, much like the other service members of their generation, didn't talk much about the war years. He said their attitude was: It's what you do.
"It wasn't something they considered extraordinary," he said. "From the outside, you'd think it was amazing."
Dorothy did keep a reminder of that period in time. For years, hanging above her kitchen table, was a picture of Winston Churchill.
Around the new year, Dorothy contracted pneumonia and entered Josie Harper Hospice House earlier this month. She died just after midnight, her son said.
In addition to Richard, she is survived by sons Mike in Kansas City, Missouri, and Dave in Seattle; and two grandsons.
Richard marveled at his mother's wit, tenacity and long and interesting life.
Among her many talents was music. She had written a song that will be performed at her service.
It is called: "Go in Peace."