Saturday, February 25, 2012
I first met Sam Levy in December of 1963, Susan and I had been dating for about a month and she invited me to join her family for dinner so that her folks could have an idea of whom she was dating. It was a Saturday night, as best as I can recall, when I made the drive from Brighton, Massachusetts to Salem and I managed to make it to Leech Street with minimal problems. I rang the bell and made my way up the stairs. Surprise of surprises Susan was not quite ready when I arrived so I took a seat on the sofa in the living room and lit up a cigarette and waited for Susan to make her appearance. The first family member I met was Susan’s youngest brother, Robert, who talked to me about the evils of smoking, while I waited for Susan to come and rescue me. Yo be honest, I do not remember much about that night other than the fact that I got to meet Sam and Bess, as well as brothers David, Saul and Robert.
Susan and I got engaged in April of 1965 after our relationship went on hiatus and I had headed off to the University of Maryland to work on a Master’s degree in Spanish. I came back home in June and had further contact with the Levys as we discussed plans for the wedding and other things. Given the fact that there was an agenda that needed to be discussed and issues that needed to be resolved that was not really a time when I would come to know Sam. That opportunity would come after Susan and I had been married and made our annual pilgrimages to the Boston area to be with our families during our Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. With the birth of Rachel Sam and Bess would be frequent visitors to wherever we were living at the time. We would visit with Sam and Bess when they moved to Florida for a spell and when they made Nevada City their permanent base of operations they were only a few hours away thank to Southwest Airlines. All of this serves as a prologue for me to say that in the forty-nine years that I knew this man I grew to admire all that he had accomplished in his lifetime and appreciate all of the many facets that this man possessed.
Sam joined the Army Air Corps when he was living with relatives in Buffalo, New York. In 1947 most of the personnel of the Corps was transferred to the US Air Force and Sam was one of those who was transferred. When he retired from the Air Force he had earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In the intervening years he had met and married his sweetheart and the two of them had created a family of four children who had been born in diverse parts of the United States. In addition to being posted to a multiplicity of cities here in the US he had also spent a goodly amount of time stationed in Germany. While in the army he had begun a degree program through the auspices of the University of Maryland. When he was mustered out of the Air Force, Sam mage his way to the University of Omaha where he finished his degree. The family joke was that Susan and her father were college freshmen at the same point in time.
Soon after receiving his degree he obtained a position teaching mathematics at a local school in Salem. He earned a Master’s Degree at Salem State College and that degree was his ticket to a principalship at an elementary school in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He was a highly respected educator, both as a teacher and a principal, a he managed to touch the lives of many students and colleagues. His retirement from his second career would afford him the opportunity to pursue his many interests and to continue his education in a variety of ways.
He and Bess would attend a number of Elderhostel programs both here and abroad. An avid reader, he subscribed to a number of newspapers and magazines. He had an abiding interest in Judaism and he educated himself in a number of topics related to Judaism. As a singer he would lift his voice in song at many High Holiday services and, while living in Florida, he would become the lead singer in a musical biography for which his wife, Bess, wrote both the music and the lyrics. The two of them became traveling entertainers as they would present their show at a number of different Jewish organizations and retirement homes. He was also a golfer and an avid tennis player. Sam’s tennis style had it’s origins in his ping pong game. His repertoire of shots was dominated by cuts, slices and chops and his serves barely made it over the net unless the opposition moved closer to the net to receive serve. Sam liked to tell jokes and he carried around a little notebook that had the punchline for every joke he knew contained therein and every punchline was numbered.
Sam had a number of unique talents. He could knit, sew, iron and cook. He was a master of the Caesar Salad and on a number of occasions he prepared enough of his famed salad to feed close to 500 people at a sisterhood or brotherhood dinner. He was an avid sports fan and divided his allegiances between his favorite Boston teams and his adopted San Francisco teams. He kept abreast of everything and his sources were the periodicals he read, TV news programs and the Internet. He quickly became computer literate and kept up with the whereabouts of all of his friends wherever their travels had taken them. In his later years he slowed down physically, but the sharpness of his mind never diminished one iota.
His greatest gift and talent was the fact that he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. His four children took different roads to get to where they are now and he supported them along every stop on the way. Whenever there was a family event the entire family would gather around and join in the celebration. As grandchildren were born the guest list would expand and as the level of noise increased so did the level of fun. There was and there is never a dull moment when the Levys get together. And so it seems appropriate that Susan and I have traveled from Valencia to be here. Brothers Robert, Saul and David were already here when we arrived. Grandchildren Sara and Katrina are on their way from the San Francisco airport having flown in from Philadelphia and Boston. Great grandson Elio is traveling with Katrina. Rachel will be here on Sunday fling in from Boulder and Saul’s wife Sue and their son, Jake, will arrive on Sunday, also.
There is a memorial service scheduled for Tuesday in which the life of this very unique and beloved man will be celebrated. There will be tears, of course, but there will be laughter, too. We will all remember, celebrate and be thankful for all the joy that this man brought into our lives, secure in the knowledge that a part of him lives on in us to encourage us and accompany us as we navigate the unknown portions of our life paths that lie ahead. The man that was Sam Levy is no longer here among us, but his spirit will live on.