The Vail Valley lost a unique spirit this week. Marie Claire Moritz lost her battle with leukemia Feb. 6. She had lived in the Vail Valley since 1967.
Marie Claire was born in 1939 in Montereau, Seine at Marne, France, just outside of Paris. Marie Claire's strength of spirit was formed at a young age, as she had to endure many hardships. At the age of 6, her mother, Jeanne Lize Vigne, had to send her to an orphanage where she remained until she was 17. These years after the war in the orphanage were difficult for Marie Claire but she did not let this define her. She could even joke that she was like Madeleine as a child, walking the streets of Paris "two by two" visiting the museums and sights. Marie Claire had a sister and brother, but they were both killed at a young age in accidents.
At 17, Marie Claire moved to England and worked as an au pair to help her learn English. She wanted to save money to go back to France and have a small home with her mother, but unfortunately her mother passed away before this could happen.
Marie Claire met her future husband, Walter, while he was working for the Dudley Hotel in Hove, England. Together they immigrated to America in 1964 when Walter got a job offer from the Drake Hotel. Marie Claire worked at Carson Pirie Scott as a photographer and loved it. She laughed that she landed the job after she lied about being a photographer - but she had flair and a good eye and pulled it off! She also liked to tell the story of how she and Walter went to rent an apartment in Chicago but they couldn't as they weren't married - so they got married the next day on their lunch break!
Marie Claire and Walter met other foreigners in Chicago who talked about "this new little town in the Rockies." They decided to pack up and move to Vail, hoping for new opportunities. Baby Sasha was along for the ride. They came to Vail in 1966, where Walter's first job was as a chef at the Lord Gore. The Lord Gore was "the place" in 1967, largely due to Walter's cooking.
Walter and Marie Claire realized their dream of opening their own restaurant in November 1967 when they opened the St. Moritz in the old Wedel Inn. Jean-Claude was only one month old when the restaurant opened, and Marie Claire reminisced about how she brought him to the bar in a basket, as she had no sitter. She also said she dipped his "schnooli" (pacifier) in whiskey to quiet him down! One-year-old Sasha was probably already behind the bar serving drinks or washing dishes! Misha was born in the early years of the St. Moritz and all three boys spent a lot of time in the restaurant, helping and eating. Marie Claire said it was a good thing she had a restaurant or she would have gone broke feeding the boys!
The St. Moritz quickly became the gourmet spot in Vail. It was known for its lobster thermidor and steak Diane. The St. Moritz and La Cave instigated the perception that Vail was a culinary destination as well as a ski area in the early days. Many VIPs and locals frequented the St. Moritz and enjoyed the fine food and family atmosphere. In 1977 the Moritzs sold the restaurant but they weren't out of the business for long. They opened La Tour in 1980. This restaurant was also a success, and people again enjoyed the combination of gourmet food from Walter's kitchen and the friendly atmosphere supplied by Marie Claire. Everyone felt welcomed by her when they entered La Tour.
Anyone who knew Marie Claire knew how much her boys meant to her. After her bleak childhood, she wanted to make a wonderful life for them. She would do anything for them, including their French homework (she got caught), and Misha thinks he may have won some ski races due to his mother doing the scorekeeping! Marie Claire enjoyed attending all of the boys' sporting events and learned about "American football." She enjoyed cheering on the Broncos and called Jean-Claude every Sunday to ask "what channel are the Broncos on?"
After nearly 20 years of operating La Tour, Walter and Marie Claire decided to sell the restaurant in 1998 and retire. The couple was able to enjoy one year of retirement together before Walter passed away in 1999. Marie Claire always said that she was glad that she and Walter had traveled so much through the years. She said that they "did it all" and never waited until they had the money or the time.
In recent years Marie Claire kept herself busy with her children and grandchildren. She had always wanted a daughter (many people remember her dressing Misha in pink) and she was blessed with seven granddaughters - Misha and Kaia's four daughters and Sasha's three. She also enjoyed reliving her life with three boys through Jean-Claude and Ellen's three sons. Marie Claire remained active in her "club" where her involvement has impacted many people in this valley. She also spent time volunteering at Vail Valley Medical Center.
Marie Claire was known for her wonderful accent, which never left her after all these years living in the U.S. She caused many laughs with her pronunciation of words. She was full of life, honest and an animal lover. She touched many lives in this valley and will be sorely missed.
Marie Claire was preceded in death by her husband Walter in 1999. She is survived by her three sons, Sasha, Jean-Claude and Misha, Jean-Claude's wife Ellen, and Misha's wife Kaia. Her 10 grandchildren meant the world to her: Sasha and Amy's daughters Eloise, Lily and Grace; Jean-Claude and Ellen's sons Sebastian, Alec and Theo; and Misha and Kaia's daughters Annika, Liv, Kjersti, and Solveig.
A memorial service will be held at the Vail Chapel Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. A reception will follow from 3 until 6 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Marie Claire's memory to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens or the Vail Valley Charitable Fund.