Donald S. Levenson, Esq.
July 4, 2021, of Mt. Laurel, NJ, formerly of Cherry Hill, NJ. Beloved husband of the late Sandra Levenson. Loving father of Stacy (Dr. Jim) Steinberg and Marc (Cathy Nicholson) Levenson. Adored grandfather of Jacob, Alyssa, Zachary, Miriam, Ruthie and Eli. Relatives and friends are invited Wednesday beginning 9:15 AM to PLATT MEMORIAL CHAPELS, Inc., 2001 Berlin Road, Cherry Hill, NJ where funeral services will begin promptly at 10:00 AM. Interment Shalom Mem. Park, Lower Moreland Twp., PA. Contributions in his memory can be made to Pink Roses Teal Magnolias at Home www.foundation.cooperhealth.org/get-involved/pinkandteal/ or the American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org
EULOGY BY MARC LEVENSON
Do you know anyone who checks the following boxes?
· Never met a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony he couldn’t fall asleep at
· Well-known at the bank drive through
· Kicked a molded plastic Veteran’s Stadium chair until it broke
· Great jitterbugger
· Legendary eater, but never drank, smoked, took drugs—or cooked a meal
· Seriously fast runner
· Terrible little league dad
· Incredibly generous with strangers
· Had a platter named after them at a deli
· President of his county professional organization and a major volunteer organization
· Never learned how to use a computer or send a text or email
· Lover of doowop and Motown music
· Recruited by Penn State to play football
· Founded a Jewish youth leadership group in high school
· Spent years in leadership at his synagogue
· Legal representation for an all-pro running back
· Was right all along about Ben Simmons
As his great friend Bernie put it the other day, there was no one like my dad. He was charming, boisterous, loving, smart, dedicated, and yet at times infuriating and completely dumbfounding. And, with someone like him, it was tempting to steer this eulogy towards one last attempt at FIGURING THIS GUY OUT. But, the better use of our limited time is to tell you a bit more about his life, share some of the best stories, and try to keep it short so we can get to the cemetery and then, as he would have surely wanted, go to a great restaurant he really loved and stuff our faces. And, if you’re wondering, we did consider the restaurants where a few of you spent the most time with him these past few years: Cracker Barrell, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Steak 38, and Olga’s, but we’ll instead just have to meet up for meals there in the coming months to continue the celebrations.
My dad was an only child of serious and seriously smart and driven parents, Carl, a pioneering doctor in the field of rehabilitation medicine, and Mollie, a linguist and teacher. He spent some of his earliest years living at the famous Greenbriar resort in West Virginia while Carl, a rehabilitation doctor and major in the army, was stationed there. He attended a remarkable elementary school called The School in Rose Valley that shaped his worldview and left him a lifetime of cherished memories including making a lamp (he was handier than he let on). From the time my dad was 8 to the time he was 18, Carl’s brain was afflicted by a mysterious ailment that kept him mostly hospitalized, only recovering due to a miracle drug. My dad relied on the sprawling extended family, especially the Pearls, in the area, to cover for him when he skipped Hebrew school to play basketball and to feed him extra meals because 1) Mollie apparently wasn’t much of a cook and 2) You may have heard something about his appetite.
During those years my dad grew early and emerged as a superior athlete in several sports, his sports life somewhat akin to his beloved Chip Hilton books. He attended Swarthmore High School on scholarship his first two years of high school and when the scholarship was no longer available he transferred to Chester High School for his last two years--very different places that someone as socially adept and friendly as my dad could actually handle. He loved to show the newspaper clipping of him and all of his 5’8” of height having made the powerhouse Chester High School basketball team although his recruitment by Penn State ended when he injured his knee playing basketball that year.
He attended Cornell and played football his freshman year, but his knee injury and his lack of height made it tough for him to go any further as an offensive lineman. He had played four varsity sports in high school, and it was a strange set of circumstances that led him to his 5th sport – lacrosse. His junior high gym teacher happened to have played lacrosse and taught it in gym class, a major rarity for the Philadelphia area at that time. When my dad on a whim went out to be a body throwing the ball around during offseason fall practices, the lacrosse coach happened to be complaining to future legendary hockey coach, Ned Harkness, that he lacked goalies. So, for some reason, Ned Harkness pointed at my dad and said: “I’ll make him your goalie.” He worked one-on-one with my dad over the winter and my dad became the starting Cornell lacrosse goalie and played for several years at the highest level after college.
At Cornell, he became close friends with Michael Schmuckler, skipped too many classes, and joined Tau Epsilon Phi. If you knew Michael Schmuckler, and to consider a fraternity at any time but especially in the early 1960s, the non-drinking is frankly as remarkable a trait of my dad’s as any. But Michael was a good influence, too—he introduced my dad to his cousin, Sandy Chervinsky. When my dad met my mom, he told her friend Diann that he was going to marry her. My dad liked to say that each of them thought the other was wealthy since his dad was a doctor (remember he missed 10 years of his career so not wealthy) and her dad was in oil (he owned and drove a heating oil truck – not exactly “in oil.”). One challenging moment in my parents’ relationship was when they watched future Senator Bill Bradley lead Princeton from behind for a win and my dad threw his typical loud sports fan tantrum and my mom laughed. He walked out and left her there (foreshadowing the infamous Cherry Bowl 1991 walk home). They patched things up, thankfully. In a lucky life my mom was clearly the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. In college he was already relying on her notes when he would skip class, and for the rest of her life she would be his ultimate enabler, and not entirely in a bad way. They balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. She was incredibly competent at everything, calm, and not very good at lying on the couch. He was boisterous and quippy and very good at lying on the couch.
My grandfather wanted my dad to be a doctor, and he was basically a fake premed for most of college (while really more of a poli sci major), but his destiny was elsewhere as he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. My mom nudged him to take the LSAT and he scored very well. He was tempted to stay at Cornell as an assistant football coach and study psychology, but Rutgers Law (where he was editor of the law review) and South Jersey it was, and it was the law and South Jersey for the next 56 years. 56 YEARS!
So, by his early 20s, all the groundwork was laid, and all the major themes, pieces, and passions were in place (other than his large belly and Stacy and me): my mom, his career path, playing sports and sports fandom, South Jersey, a classic male only child pre-THE SIXTIES, the dedication to service, creative fun with friends, AND his legendary love of food. And, it’s a good thing he had all those things figured out because he always liked to say how he was still 18 years old.
In his early law career he practiced a variety of types of law including athlete representation (with a young Wilbert Montgomery among his clients), town prosecutor, defense, and personal injury among others. He decided against continuing with athlete representation or defense because 1) He was told he would need to pay players illegally to get them as clients and 2) He wouldn’t lie for his defense clients. Those of you who know my dad as a lovable or silly character might be surprised to learn that he was in fact, this deeply ethical person. He eventually settled into a practice focused on family law and real estate law, and for over twenty years enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the firm of Levenson, Vogdes, Nathanson, Cohen, & Obringer, any of whom could probably deliver their own hours-long eulogy of my father.
It’s dimensions of him like his deeply ethical approach to his profession that have struck me most while I reexamined his life these past few days. Day-to-day in my life, Don was the impulsive guy who pushed my buttons, not a serious professional with deep integrity. Even before he died I was wrestling with my perception of him after a wonderful live-in aide who worked with him for three weeks referred to him as a “great man.” My immediate reaction was, what charming line of BS has he been selling her? But, I took some time to start seeing him through her eyes, so the last few days it’s been easier to see her line of thinking, especially when taking stock of his many accomplishments and more serious character traits.
Another example of his serious side: I don’t think I ever fully comprehended his level of commitment and depth of dedication to service. Here’s a long but undoubtedly incomplete list of his service experiences, most of which he participated in for many years or even decades: Lions’ Club, Rotary, solicitor for the planning board, founding member with my mom and others of the Beth El Young Associates, secretary at Beth El (where he spent many years on the bima, somehow not falling asleep, and possibly not understanding much of what went on up there), active member of the local Democratic party (I remember going to Democratic HQ a ton when I was young), president of the Burlington County Bar Association, and president of the South Jersey Diabetes Association. That, my friends, is a list that anyone would be proud of, and it doesn’t account for the wisdom and generosity he’s shared with so many family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and people he’d meet for the first time.
But, while there was a serious side to him that requires reflection and admiration, it’s the silly side and his ridiculous exploits that would keep us here for hours swapping stories. Those of you here who knew him in the swimming and Woodcrest pool worlds would have plenty to say about his years announcing at Woodcrest swim meets (it was hilarious but, seriously, who greenlighted that?), his omnipresence at Stacy and my swim and other sport practices (perhaps more amusing to others than Stacy and me), his creating a new type of annual swim meet called a midi-meet for 10 year olds and older (vs. the well-established mini-meets for nine and unders) so, the theory goes, I had a chance to get more trophies for the outrageous trophy case he had installed on the wall of my bedroom at 1758 Tearose Lane, our family home for 41 years.
There are so many parts of his life where we could make a night of stories. I’m sure his fraternity brother and best man at his wedding, Ian Polow, could tell me all sorts of things I wouldn’t want to know. The Mann family and Stacy and I could go on for hours about our various travel and vacation debacles, many of which had my dad at the center of the mayhem. Attending an Eagles game with my dad is something my friends, especially Rob, still carry with them to this day, especially if it was one of those games they blew at the end. I’m guessing their memories are a mix of 80% amused and 20% still a bit terrified. My college friends called him The Don and found him endlessly entertaining. Our cousin Judy and her husband Richard could tell stories for days of their adventures during the twelve years they shared a condo in Margate, although nothing would beat the red, white, and blue paisley furniture that precisely matched the red, white, and blue paisley wallpaper. Mary Ryan, once my mom’s assistant who then took over her business, and someone who became like a sister to my dad, undoubtedly knows stories that Stacy and I have never heard and will never be allowed to hear (and, I’m not asking, Mary). And, of course, it was Mary’s speeding ticket that led directly to the Sandy Levenson defense of legal lore. I can’t share all the details in this setting, but suffice it to say it was a last-ditch, and shockingly successful, defense by my dad centered around how my mom would have treated my dad if Mary had her license suspended.
Since I ended up delivering a more serious eulogy than I, or probably most of you, expected, especially given the subject, let’s talk about The PIGs, tell a few other stories, and move closer to that lunch. According to Bernie, The PIGS, which stood for People Indulging in Gluttony Society, was my dad’s idea. It started with my dad suggesting to Bernie, Jack Gallagher, and Richie Schultz that they make a run to Chester for hoagies (many Don stories start or end this way) and they came back with multiple boxes of hoagies. For four people. They all thought they should do something like that again and thus The PIGS were born. Their wives would join them for outings to various restaurants, always far enough away so Mayor Platt wouldn’t be recognized, always wearing their pig hats, and often with my dad walking in ordering one of everything. There was a night they got kicked out for refusing to remove their hats, another night the started a food fight, and there were plenty of other infamous incidents that will remain uncited. And, at some point the Manns became involved and a pig acquisition war ensued between our two families… yadda yadda yadda… 1758 Tearose Lane had a pig mailbox. Of course, in his will my dad bequeathed all remaining stuffed animal, figurine, giant bank (contents not included), decorative, or any other pig acquisitions or gifts acquired since 1980 to the Mann family, so the Levensons officially win.
A few other great stories: I mentioned he skipped too many classes in college. He once took no-doze for several days to cram for finals and fell asleep at 4pm on a Saturday after his last final. Upon waking up at 8pm, he went out into a surprisingly quiet town for a Saturday night, went into a diner to ask where everyone was, and found out he had slept for 28 straight hours – everything in extreme, nothing in moderation.
My dad was truly a genius at getting people to do things for him, and he came to expect it. This is another area where there is no shortage of stories, but for time’s sake I’ll limit it to just two. One day during the Levenson, Vogdes, Nathanson, Cohen, & Obringer days, my dad called one of the administrative assistants to ask her to make him a cup of tea. But, Don, she said, you’re not here, you’re at your house. And, he said, by the time I get there, it will be the perfect temperature. A story my sister’s family tells is when they were at Sage with him one day and he asked the server for “toast buttered in the back.” My sister and her family were dumbfounded and tried to figure out whether toast had a back and, if so, where it would be. But, what he meant, is he wanted the toast buttered in the kitchen before it was brought out. Not only did he never cook a meal in his life, he didn’t want to be bothered with buttering his own toast. Monster? Genius?
A week before their wedding, my mom forbade my dad to play in a lacrosse all-star game for a league he played in after college. Of course, he didn’t listen, and, wouldn’t you know it, one of the best players in the country came in on a breakaway, hit my dad squarely in the facemask, and a spoke of his facemask went right through his nose. In another lucky break for him, the future of his marriage and my sister’s and my lives, it somehow left almost no mark behind, although if you look closely at their wedding photos you might see a bit of a lingering black eye or two.
A story about my mom seems like a good place to pivot to a conclusion. When my mom passed away I talked about what it probably felt like to people when she would walk in a room or join their team. Comfort… reassurance… wow are we lucky we get to have Sandy here. When my dad walked in the room, I imagine the feeling was more like whoa… energy up… HERE WE GO.
My dad was a super-social person who was always ready with a joke or quip, a story from his colorful life, to brag on his kids and grandkids, to talk sports, to hit the dance floor, and, perhaps most importantly, eat. And, eat. And, once full, eat some more. And, outside of his more serious endeavors (and I include his PhD quality and incredible quantity of time watching tv on the couch on the list of his serious endeavors), he approached his life the way he approached a meal: Always wanting more, rarely getting cheated or shortchanged, and leaving nothing behind on the table. His was, in the fullness of consideration, a life well-lived, and I’m proud to have had him as my dad. May his memory be blessed, and may your memories of him, serious, silly, or otherwise, but especially the many laughs and the many meals, never fade.