By Ellen Brager. Photography by Henry Arvidsson.
When I was asked to interview Sharyn van Ees-Cooper for Diplomat Magazine it seemed like a routine assignment. Little did I know that there is nothing routine about Sharyn. What was meant to be a 1-hour interview turned into a 2.5-hour conversation during which she asked me as many questions about myself as I about her. Because that is her trademark: personable, warm and engaging. A woman determined to leave a positive mark on everything she does.
Sharyn is the spouse of Roelof van Ees, Director of Cabinet and Protocol at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They met in Vienna in 1991 where she had moved from the United States to live temporarily with her family (her father was employed at the International Atomic Energy Agency) while working as a journalist and PR person.
Roelof had recently arrived in Vienna for his first diplomatic posting and approached her on the street to ask for directions. Within a few weeks they met again at the farewell party of Dutch diplomat Piet de Klerk (Sherpa for the preparations of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit) and his wife Vicky to whom they both had ties.
Sharyn had just as whirlwind a social life then as now and she didn’t recognise Roelof at once, but he remembered her and struck up a conversation. Although she had no inkling at the time, this chance encounter would eventually lead her to The Hague.
The newly-married couple arrived in the Netherlands in 1994. However, it wasn’t until ten years later, after a stint in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a second posting in Vienna, that they finally settled in their home in Benoordenhout where they have raised their three children: a daughter of 18 years and two sons aged 17 and 13.
Enterprising as Sharyn is, it didn’t take her long to land a job as the editor of thehague.com, the English-language website of the Municipality of The Hague. The website has a double mission: to inform international residents of The Hague about the city and to make its reputation as City of Peace and Justice known to a wider audience. ‘My role allows me to use my journalism and editing skills while sharing my enthusiasm for a truly fantastic and highly liveable city.
It has a one-of-a-kind character as a beautiful city by the sea, seat of the Dutch government and home to some 160 international institutions and organisations working together for a safe and just world,’ Sharyn explained. She keeps people informed and up to date on the city’s news and events not only through the extensive website but also through the municipality’s English-language social media like Facebook and Twitter as well as the fortnightly The Hague Newsletter.
‘I see myself as a sort of Ambassador for The Hague, singing the city’s praises and shouting from the rooftops about all the great things the city has to offer.’ Sharyn is also a regular contributor to DutchBuzz radio.
Outside of her nearly full-time job at the Municipality of The Hague, she juggles her roles as mother and spouse operating in diplomatic circles with making time for friends and sports and staying actively involved in the Jewish community.
However, as a real Culture Vulture, she says if it were up to her she would spend more time indulging her passion for the Arts. Sharyn adores all kinds of cultural expressions, but highest on the list is performing arts, especially theatre. She has always taken a keen interest in drama. She dabbled in some acting in high school and took English literature courses in drama at Boston University. In February she took to the stage as one of the play readers in the charity fundraiser The Vagina Monologues. ‘It was a high-impact piece with some hard-hitting moments, but all in all a great cast and great fun to do!’
Her love of theatre has translated into volunteer work for STET The English Theatre. Since 2011 she has served as a member of the Board of the foundation, which she has wholeheartedly supported since its inception in 2006, attending nearly all of its productions as an enthusiastic audience member. STET produces and promotes high-quality English-language theatre in the Netherlands, with an emphasis on The Hague. Its programme now averages 8 to 10 performances a year, including the highly popular open-air performances of Shakespeare in the summer and A Christmas Carol in December. Sharyn explained, ‘In the early years performances were staged in sometimes unusual venues in The Hague, such as almshouses, chapels, shops, museums and small theatres. However, over the past few years STET productions have been performed mainly in Het Paradijs studio theatre of the Koninklijke Schouwburg.’
In addition to her passion for theatre, Sharyn enjoys modern dance, art exhibitions (particularly under the tutelage of an art historian), jazz and literary evenings. While her love of reading fiction has been put on a back burner, she still tries to find the time to read the newspaper to keep up on current news. Quite a few of her evenings are taken up by accompanying her husband to social events, such as dinners, receptions and concerts organised by the diplomatic community.
This affords her the opportunity to speak to many international residents and she is thrilled by the positive impressions they have of The Hague. Her advice to newcomers is to ‘explore the city and surroundings by bike, take the less-travelled paths, get out and enjoy the rich cultural scene and seek information to make the most of your time here.’ Information she is happy to share!