Deirdre Jepsen, who helped save countless lives during her 18 years as a member of the Arcola Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department, lost her own six-year struggle with ovarian cancer June 2. She was 56.
"She didn't mind getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning," said her mother, Monica Saunders of McLean. "When her beeper went off, she would put on her boots to go pull someone from the wreckage of a car accident."
Jepsen was born Aug. 13, 1947, in Westfield, N.J., and grew up as an Army brat in the United States and Germany. Her family settled in Virginia when she was a teenager, and she attended Texas Christian and Brigham Young universities.
During the 1960s, while living in Utah, she married Lee Jepsen, and they had a daughter, Christine. They divorced, and Jepsen moved back to Virginia.
While Christine Jepsen was growing up, she treasured her mother as a rare find for teenagers -- what her friends called "the cool mom." Diedre Jepsen had rock-and-roll musicians as friends and was the easygoing type who attended a meeting with Christine's high school headmaster -- who had summoned Jepsen to discuss her daughter's grades -- with a lap full of chimney swifts she had just rescued.
"The whole time we're having this very serious conversation, there was this 'peep peep' coming from mom's shirt," Christine Jepsen said of her mother, who was also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. "She always knew the right thing to say, the best advice to give, the right record to put on."
Jepsen co-owned Tan Branch Graphics in Leesburg with Jack Lefkowitz, her husband. Eighteen years ago, she and Lefkowitz became aware of a shortage of rescue personnel in Arcola and decided to volunteer at the fire department as emergency medical technicians. For years, they were often the only ones on duty with Arcola's sole ambulance until gradually, the rural community received an influx of new volunteers and the department expanded.
To improve her skills, Jepsen also worked in the emergency room at Loudoun Hospital Center. In January, attached to an IV, she attended a paramedic refresher course.
The cancer took its toll on Jepsen's ability to respond to calls, but she still went out when she could. Two years ago, when rescue Chief Kit Fraley was rushed to the hospital for complications from an ovarian cyst, Jepsen, although she was quite ill herself, chased after the ambulance in another car and met Fraley en route to the emergency room.
Jepsen cherished her friends, and several weeks ago, the fire department held a retirement party for her. More than 150 people -- including friends from high school and college and fire department colleagues now living across the country -- came to bid her farewell.
"She had such a wide variety of friends from different parts of her life," said her older brother, Michael Saunders of Fairfax County. "She was able to weave all those people together."
After a 21-year courtship, Jepsen married Lefkowitz on May 13. She was taken to the courthouse in an ambulance, which parked in the loading dock while a clerk issued a license and an officiator came outside to perform the ceremony.
Jepsen was an avid gardener, growing vegetables, fruits and flowers and regularly filling her mother's house with the blooms. Whether horseback riding as a child or learning beadwork in later years, "she always wanted to try something new," Saunders said. "Each time she had a project, she put her heart and soul to it. She never wasted a moment of her life."
Jepsen is survived by her husband, daughter, mother and brother. Services will be held 3 p.m. Saturday at Loudoun Funeral Chapel, 158 Catoctin Cir. SE, Leesburg.