ICWA Honorary Trustee Robert Levinson died peacefully at home in New York City on September 22 at the age of 97 following a battle with brain cancer, his son Andrew Levinson said.
A textile manufacturer and philanthropist with a deep interest in world affairs, medicine and the arts, Bob was also involved in Democratic politics, including as chairman for Mario Cuomo’s 1977 campaign for New York mayor. He was especially interested in China, and served as board vice chair of the National Committee on US-China Relations.
A longtime ICWA supporter who established the Robert and Patricia Levinson Fellowship in 2017, Bob was tireless in his encouragement of and involvement in the institute’s mission of educating the American public about global cultures and affairs. He and his wife of 61 years, Patricia—who died in 2015—were fixtures at ICWA’s annual meetings.
Bob was born in Baltimore on July 26, 1925. His family soon moved to rural Pennsylvania after its department store business suffered in the Great Depression. He joined the Navy during World War II and witnessed the testing of a hydrogen bomb. He attended Dartmouth College on the GI Bill, graduating in 1946 before earning an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School, and went on to study at the London School of Economics.
“I did well in business thanks to those opportunities,” Bob told the New York Community Trust in 2017 on establishing a fund for five separate fellowships, including ICWA’s Levinson grant.
His work in Navy procurement led him to the private textile industry. He began with Burlington Industries in New York City in 1949, and was later director of Bangor Punta, Inc. and board chairman for the Duplan Corporation, Andrex Industries Corporation and Levcor International. He was known as the largest importer of buttons from China, among his other accomplishments.
Bob’s work in international commerce helped fuel his interest in global affairs as well as Democratic politics, said ICWA Executive Director Gregory Feifer, who remembers him as “larger than life, a pleasure to talk to about most anything, with stories that could fill a novel or more.”
Recalling the Democratic National Convention in 1968, Feifer said, Bob described urging the eventual presidential nominee, then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey, to address protesters outside his headquarters at the Conrad Hilton hotel. Humphrey declined, a decision some believe may have helped him lose the general election that November.
Bob met ICWA’s former Executive Director Peter Bird Martin—another stalwart Dartmouth alumnus—in the 1990s through Peter’s wife Lu, who worked in development for the college. Joining the board, Bob remained close to the institute ever since. The current Levinson fellow, Joshua Levkowitz, based in Istanbul, is reporting on the Syrian diaspora in neighboring countries and further afield.
“Bob was a remarkable man,” Trustee and former fellow Chandler Rosenberger said. “Forthright, sometimes blunt, but also collaborative in everything. He wanted to get things done, and by God did he. I’ll miss him very much.”
Bob’s many philanthropic activities included chairing boards of the Brooklyn Museum, The Harlem School of the Arts and the National Dance Institute, as well as serving on the Board of Overseers of the Hood Museum and Hopkins Performing Arts Center at Dartmouth College, and as co-chair of the Patricia S. Levinson Center for the Community Cultural Affairs department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, which he and Pat helped establish.
He is survived by his children Margot, Andrew and John, and five grandchildren.
Photo: Bob and Pat at an ICWA meeting in June 2004 at Monmouth University in New Jersey