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William Turner Levy, Class of 1938

William Turner Levy, an educator at Viewpoint School in Calabasas and at Baruch College in New York, an author, and a confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, and Frank Capra, died on January 21, 2008 at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center. He was 85. The cause was complications after abdominal surgery, said his friend and colleague Dr. Robert J. Dworkoski, Headmaster of Viewpoint School where Dr. Levy taught for 29 years and served as the School’s Provost until three weeks before his death.
After 30 years of teaching at Baruch College, where he won an outstanding teacher award, Dr. Levy moved to Los Angeles in 1976 intending to focus on writing and to pursue his interest in American cinema. Here he befriended many actors and directors, including Frank Capra with whom he became a close friend. With Capra’s cooperation and encouragement, Levy co-authored with Victor Scherle, “The Films of Frank Capra,” the definitive study of Capra’s films. Among his other close friends were the poet Robinson Jeffers, actors Richard Burton and Sam Jaffe, and the artist Norman Rockwell.

Another of Dr. Levy’s extraordinary friends was Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1953 Dr. Levy wrote Mrs. Roosevelt requesting more information about some of her husband’s memorabilia that he had purchased. What began with an informal invitation to tea developed into an enduring relationship, with Dr. Levy becoming a close friend and spiritual advisor to Mrs. Roosevelt. During their friendship, he documented the influential role that religion played in the life and career of Franklin D. Roosevelt and, with Mrs. Roosevelt’s assistance, interviewed many of FDR’s closest advisors and friends, including Governor of New York Averell Harriman. At the time of Dr. Levy’s death, he had completed nine of 10 chapters of this unpublished manuscript.

Dr. Levy regarded Mrs. Roosevelt as one of his most influential teachers in life and served as one of the officiants at her funeral in 1962. Through her, he met many of the world’s leaders, including President Kennedy with whom he maintained a lengthy correspondence. Dr. Levy chronicled his friendship with Mrs. Roosevelt in his last book, “The Extraordinary Mrs. R.”

Within three years after his move to California, Dr. Levy realized that he missed the stimulation of the classroom and his students. Therefore in 1979 he began teaching English and Latin at Viewpoint School, in Calabasas, California. During his 29 years at Viewpoint, he became much more than a teacher of English Literature and Latin to his students. Shortly before Dr. Levy’s death, Viewpoint alumnus Adam Sowlati ’06, now a student at Stanford, wrote to him, “I learned about myself, the world, the challenges that confront all of us, and the need to retain moral competency in a world that seems to lack compassion and honor…Wherever life takes me, I always remember your lessons.”

According to Dr. Robert J. Dworkoski, “Dr. Levy made these great Americans of the 20th century – Eleanor Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, and Capra – real and accessible for 15-year-olds in Calabasas. He transformed them into people who had a meaning and lesson for them too.”

Jacob Levy and Florence Turner Levy adopted William shortly after his birth in Far Rockaway, New York on November 3, 1922. An only child inspired by his mother’s faith, William found his spiritual home in the Episcopal Church at an early age. He attended the college preparatory Townsend Harris High School, where he developed his lifelong passion for literature, philosophy, and art. After graduation at age 16, he enrolled in the City College of New York, earning his bachelor’s degree in English in 1942. In that year Dr. Levy postponed his graduate studies and enlisted in the army. He served in the European theater of the war earning a Bronze Star.

After the war Dr. Levy enrolled in Columbia University’s graduate program and completed his Ph.D. in English in 1953. While living in England researching his dissertation, Dr. Levy arranged a meeting with the poet T.S. Eliot to discuss the subject of his research, the nineteenth century poet William Barnes. This initial meeting with Eliot became a lifelong friendship which Dr. Levy later chronicled in “Affectionately, T.S. Eliot,” the first memoir about the Nobel Prize-winning writer.

Levy’s Christian faith inspired him to enroll in New York’s Union Theological Seminary where he studied with famed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr whose teachings had a profound effect upon his life. In 1953 he was ordained as an Episcopal priest and served as a curate of All Angels Church in New York from 1952-1960.

Pictured above on right along with Averill Harriman and Eleanor Roosevelt.