Rabbi Rona Shapiro of Congregation B’nai Jacob gave the following eulogy of Beverly Levy (pictured), a longtime Jewish community leader and SNET/AT&T spokeswoman who died earlier this month at the age of 63.
Beverly Levy was a force of nature. If she decided to do something, she did it 110 percent. If, for instance, you were having a bake sale, before you knew it, you would have invented a new kind of cupcake and opened your own bakery for charity. That’s just the kind of person Bev was. She wasn’t loud or pushy – she did it all in her own quiet and gracious way and before you knew it, you were roped in to her cause. Bev did everything she did for one reason: love. John, Perry and her parents were first on her list but she also had legions of friends. Bev knew that through her effort she could make the world a little better, make John or Perri or someone else’s life a little easier, and that made it all worthwhile.
Bev was born and grew up in Washington, D.C. Her father worked for the government; her mother was a leader in her own right, especially at Hadassah, and she taught Bev early on the values of getting involved, being community-minded, and making a difference. Bev met John when she was a student at the University of Maryland and he was at Georgetown. They met on a double date at the racetrack where they quickly decided that they liked one another more than the dates they came with. That was the beginning of a lifelong romance. The couple was engaged when Bev was a junior in college and married in 1971. They returned to Connecticut, where John was from, and settled here.
If you want to know what marriage is supposed to look like, all you had to do was look at John and Bev. They were each for each other, they each thought of the other before themselves, they were proud of each other, they each helped the other be successful. Bev in particular took care of John – with her around he didn’t have to buy a morsel of food or write a check. He could be impulsive, but she gave shape and purpose to his life. She would tease: “It takes a village to take care of John and every village has one.” She turned him into a real Jew and their commitment to Jewish New Haven is legend: Jewish Family Services, Ezra, ADL, Federation, Endowment, Young Leadership of UJA, BBYO, the Home for the Aged, the Cemetery, Backpacks for Kids, Chapel Haven. I think it is safe to say that there is no Jewish or charitable organization in New Haven that does not bear their mark.
Bev took care of John and he worshiped her. He was always content to be “Beverly’s husband.” But I think the secret to their marriage was that they each put the other’s needs before their own. This was exemplified in the house they were building. John imagined that it was all for her – one step at the entrance, no steps inside, railings in the bathroom – everything so she could be more comfortable. When Bev was at the end, she regretted that they would not be able to finish the house and move in together. John said, “What? The house was for her!” “No, the Elana, their doctor said, it was the house she wanted for you!” John hadn’t even known. She worked so hard to make sure that John and Perri and her parents would be OK when she was gone.
I would be remiss if I did not say something about Beverly’s extraordinary career. When she came to Connecticut she began working for Southern New England Telephone, where she remained throughout her working life. She became their spokesperson and then ultimately a vice president of AT&T. At one point, some years back, everyone was forced into retirement and given golden parachutes. Bev said she appreciated the parachute but she was too young to retire and AT&T agreed. She was the only one they kept on, becoming an employee and vice president of Fleishman-Hillard, from which she ultimately retired. But even then there was still a third act for Bev – she became a professor at Quinnipiac College teaching public relations, what she knew best. She loved the teaching and she was beloved by her students. Bev had an extraordinary career.
Usually, when I meet with a family before a funeral, only family is present. But last night, the Levy home was filled with lifelong friends. That was something else incredible about Beverly. Her friends were her family. If you were connected to Bev, you were connected for life. If you hadn’t seen each other in six months, it didn’t matter. You picked up where you left off as if no time had elapsed. Bev was such a generous friend. She wasn’t mushy or effusive but she connected to you. With Bev, you always knew where you stood, she told it like it was, but you knew how much she loved you. She formed her own relations even with her friends’ children, calling them from time to to time, getting them little gifts, knowing what they liked. In her own quiet way, Bev touched everyone. She was thoughtful. She was a hero. She was the kind of person who always knew what to say or do.
For her friends and family, Bev loved to plan things: vacations, picnics, golfing, bridge, incredible parties. If you were going on vacation with Bev, she would have picked out all the restaurants and mapped out the whole itinerary and it would be fun! All you had to do was pack! Bev’s pleasure was doing for others. Bev didn’t waste a minute of her life. Even on vacation, there she’d be, on the beach, a phone to her ear, another one on her belt and a third in her pocket. Bev kept the world spinning.
Laura said something extraordinary about Bev – she was always teaching. Whatever she did, she was setting an example, showing you the way. She was deeply prinicipled and unfailingly generous, to friends and charities alike. If someone said something racist, Bev would say, “Ouch.” In her quiet, gentle way she taught everyone else how to behave, what was the right thing to do. She made things possible that you couldn’t have dreamed of and she taught you that you could do it. Laura said that her friends shepped nachos from being her friend. There was never any envy – it was simply an honor to be Bev’s friend.
Bev never complained, even when she was very ill. She never wanted anyone to know how bad things were and I imagine, in her mind, someone else always had it worse and what would complaining do anyway? She wanted to live to the fullest and spare those she loved the pain. Just a month ago she vacationed in Florida with John and friends. Despite the fact that she spent two days at the emergency room and most of the time in bed, she told everyone that they would just say, “We had a great time.” And she meant it – in her mind, even the hospital visits were maintenance things – she needed fluids, or something else. Most of all, she wanted to spare her mother from knowing how very sick she was. And as long as she was live and with the people she loved, it was a great time.
Bluma described her as a strong woman who could turn over the world one person at a time. In her quiet way, she made waves wherever she went. At the classes Bluma taught at the JCC, Bev always contributed something inspirational or insightful. She was intense. Bev attacked everything she did and once she got her teeth into it there was no stopping her. But she did it in a beautiful way. Her passion was total. Shia said he knew that he could call her anytime and she would be there, that she was always ready to help and listen. Bev didn’t wait for someone else to step up, she just did it, because she knew she would get the job done. With Bev, there was no baloney, no phony talk.
Bev made a difference in so many lives and so many organizations in New Haven. Over and over again, she stepped up, she made the critical difference, she made it happen. Last year, John and Bev were the honorees at the ADL dinner, a cause she cared about dearly. Because of them, they raised an unprecedented amount of money.
All of Bev’s drive and passion, reached its peak in this past falls’s Discover the Cure walk. Discover the Cure had always had a walk with probably about 50 people participating and raising about $12,000. To say Bev took up another 10 notches would be selling her short. First, Bev thought they would climb Sleeping Giant. Then when she realized she couldn’t do that, she said, “Let’s make it a stroll.” She said, “Let’s raise 25K” and by the next day, it was 50K and up it went. She just kept raising the bar. Bev oversaw every detail – the shirts, the favors, the marketing, exactly where this sponsor’s logo would go on the shirt, how she would fit one more in. One by one, everyone Bev knew was recruited to be part of the effort. She could call in favors – no one said no to Bev. And Bev did all this while she was terribly sick, never complaining, never faltering, never slowing down. In the end, over 700 people walked for cancer that day and she raised over $150,000. If next year Yale New Haven hires a team of professionals to replicate her efforts, they will not succeed in accomplishing half of what she did. Bev was a force of nature.
I need to say something before I close about Bev’s oncologist, Dr. Elena Ratner. The two of them had an extraordinary relationship. They were like friends or sisters, even having lunch together. Some of Elena’s colleagues thought she was getting too involved, but Elena knew that the medicine was about caring – deep caring – and Bev was someone about whom she cared deeply. Even at the very end, doctors brought Bev up to the 14th floor of the hospital, to her favorite room there, so she would not have to die in ICU. The family is forever grateful, Elena, and all the doctors at Yale, for all you did.
When someone is so alive as Bev was it is hard to imagine them gone. All that life, snuffed out in an instant. How can that be? And yet, in her years that were too few, Bev lived more than most of us would in twice that time, she did more mitzvahs in a week than most of us can manage in a decade. She was a hero. And because she made such a difference to the world, to her friends, and most of all to her family, because she taught us all how to be and how to live, I know that she will keep living. I know that her spirit will burn brightly in your hearts and that all of you will be inspired to be better people and to do more than you thought you could, because Bev showed you how.
Bev’s passing leaves an enormous hole – for her loving parents Ann and Arthur and her mother-in-law, Pearl; for her brother Hank; for her beloved John and her adored Perri and her countless friends. May her memory be for a blessing.