Cover photo for Vivien Leister Steele's Obituary
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Vivien Leister Steele

April 12, 1946 — January 14, 2024

Vivien Leister Steele, 77, of Bethlehem, left this world on January 14, while her twin sister held her hand. She had spent the previous 24 hours in hospice care at LVH-Muhlenberg after a sudden decline in her battle with breast cancer.


Named after Vivien Leigh, “Vivy” had an insatiable enthusiasm for life and adventure, surpassed only by her kindness toward others. She was born in Bethlehem to Dr. C. Merrill and Mary (Butz) Leister, three minutes after her sister Victoria and five years after their brother Leslie. Even into adulthood she remained creative and playful, especially whenever she was with her siblings. She had deep, lifelong passions for music, nature, and animals, especially cats.


As a young woman, Vivy was an accomplished equestrian and violinist, representing Liberty High School at Pennsylvania state orchestra in 1964. Her reputation for over-the-top Halloween costumes began at Liberty when she, as Lady Godiva, rode her horse into the band room. She attended Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, which sparked a love of the Green Bay Packers. She finished her bachelor’s degree with a double major in English and Psychology at Cedar Crest College and earned her Master of Education with a major in Community Counseling from Lehigh University in 1983.


“Mama Steele” met the love of her life, Ralph Lee Steele (from Liberty, KY), in 1970 and married him in 1977. She brought a daughter (Alison, named after a Chaucer character) into the world and instilled in her a deep respect for all living things and a sense of responsibility for leaving the planet better than we found it. She spent many long hours tending a beautiful garden, which she did in rain, shine, and even while in labor before childbirth. Her backyard was a haven for wildlife as well as weary friends, who appreciated her company and her cooking.


Vivy was beloved by everyone who knew her, as a result of her generosity of spirit, excellent sense of humor, and beautiful smile. She always made time for her family, friends, and colleagues, pitching in to help solve problems or holding space simply to listen. She was a second mother to many of her daughter’s friends and to decades of students who came through her office in the English department at Lehigh University. Her “yes, and…” style of parenting earned her the nickname “Frank” when she regularly drove a minivan full of costumed teenagers to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, she herself dressed as the main character.


She is survived by her husband Ralph, daughter Alison (Christian Korey) Steele, sister Victoria (Raymond Steidinger) Leister, brother Leslie (Hattie Wolfe) Leister, and two very spoiled cats, Ariel and Puck. They will all remember how this vivacious woman truly sucked the marrow out of life.


To honor her “no fuss” wishes, no services have been scheduled. Her remains will be buried with the ashes of her parents at Green Meadow, a natural burial site in Fountain Hill Cemetery.


In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in her memory to Animals in Distress: https://animalsindistresspa.org/

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Vivien Leister Steele, please visit our flower store.

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Green Meadow at Fountain Hill Cemetery


Fountain Hill, PA 18015

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