Eulogies for Dr. Mel Levine

Dr. Mel Levine was an inspirational leader and a catalyst for my work with developing strengths, ailment writing my books and forming the Affinities Curriculum. Here are some of the eulogies from his funeral service two weeks ago.

Eulogies

Mike Crum

Consultant and Friend of Dr. Mel Levine’s

My wife noted that since Friday, clinic I’ve been using the word “transformative” quite a bit. It’s a very powerful word and she’s right, you don’t hear it often. In fact, it doesn’t even appear in the spell-check dictionary on Microsoft Word. It’s reserved for game changers, be it people, or experiences.

Mel – Mel was transformative.

His research, his neurodevelopmental framework, his empathy, unbridled creativity, and of course his sense of humor. Mel’s life’s work may have been based in the sciences, but equally genius and uncanny was his ability to bring non-traditional partners and often adversaries together. Teachers, parents, clinicians and kids working together as a team, rather than in isolation or even against one another.

One area where he wasn’t so transformative was sports. I remember asking him to re-tell his fabled His baseball camp stories. Can you imagine why, each summer, Mel’s parents sent him to baseball camp? The irony of Mel learning the finer points of a sport requiring keen hand eye coordination. Fast forward to his medical residency at Harvard when the attending asked Mel if he was going to pursue surgery, no Mel said, that’s good the attending replied.

His love and admiration for his big brother Lennie, who was the amazing athlete in the family, and who, one weekend, let Mel come visit him at Harvard in the dorms – that weekend providing Mel with an opportunity to see the limitless possibilities of education and that there was only ONE university in his future ——— BROWN! Or, as Mel referred to Brown, the drunken stepsister of the Ivy League. While at Brown Mel was valedictorian and he won an award from the state of Rhode Island for his work with at-risk kids.

From Brown, Mel went to Oxford, where he apparently always drew an audience —— in the dining hall. His recounting of the stories in his best or worst English accent, of the other students gathering around Mel at breakfast just to see how much Levine would spill.

And of course the lifelong bonds and friendships Mel developed at Oxford. I do hope that Justice Souter will share more with us about their antics together — particularly their trip to Morocco in a rental car – as Mel never did quite tell me the whole story.

I was so fortunate to work with Mel while he was with All Kinds of Minds. We traveled the country raising money for his continued development of tools and research to transform the lives of kids and families, and educators and clinicians across the world. No matter where the city, we always knew where the Verizon Wireless store was so we could replace lost and left behind phone chargers.

We usually met with donors for dinner prior to one of Mel’s talks, and I carefully selected restaurants without regard for their food, an impressive Scotch collection would bolster our efforts much more than a meal. Balvenie always trumped a good chef!

After only two visits with donors it became very clear, that, to a donor, not one person or couple really knew about All Kinds of Minds’ programs. They had, in fact, made past donations and based their future donations on their gratitude for and love of Mel. Whether it was $25k or $250k, these folks gave because of the impact Mel had on their lives, and their children’s lives. Period.

When raising money, we had a very complex system that Mel personally developed. He would talk — then lean back. When he leaned back, it was my turn to make the ask.

Let me interject here a critical point, I’m not sure how many of you noticed this, but Mel would often begin humming when he was bored with what someone was saying. So, often, after he leaned back, I would have to speak loudly, so as to drown out the humming!

Let me also add, Mel had a pop culture IQ of zero. Somewhat admirable but downright hilarious in Mel’s case. He told me of a singer from Key West who he met name Jimmy Buffet (as in ‘buffet dinner’). Then the time we met with Lorne Michaels and his wife Alice at the Rainbow Room. Afterwards Mel said, “Well, it’s not likely he’ll donate since he’s a hedge fund manager.” No, Mel, when he left dinner he was headed back to the studio to rehearse Saturday Night Live with Ashton Kuthcher. All of which was lost on Mel.

When Mel left All Kinds of Minds, I decided to join him on his next endeavor. In keeping with his passion for triple entendres, he created Bringing Up Minds. He said, “Get it Mike? Bringing Up Minds! Bringing Up Minds! Bringing Up Minds!” As usual I was about two entendres behind, but eventually, I got it. Mel was a content producing machine! We actually called him the machine! On Mondays I’d ask how his weekend was and he’d have written five chapters or developed a curriculum for third to fifth graders on memory.

Mel was a genius and he was a machine.

Mel passed away and left us with 4 books.

An educational masterpiece
A children’s book
A memoir of his fight, struggle and battle to save his reputation
A work of fiction – I had lunch with him 2 weeks ago and he was beaming with joy, sharing his creative energy with me as to how much fun this book had been
Bambi, we are here for you today, 4 days from now, 4 months from now, 4 years from now. We will all be there for you.

I’ll close with two final thoughts:

Does anyone need a donkey? A mammoth donkey? There’s a special going on – buy one get 5 free.

And finally, something Mel used to always share with me when we’d say goodbye, he got it from Bob and Ray

Write if you get work — and hang by your thumbs

Bill Coleman

Physician, Colleague and Best Friend

I’m Bill Coleman and I met Mel in 1982 as a fellow at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. I came with him to North Carolina in 1985 and we’ve been friends and brothers ever since. I was touched when Mel told me I was his best friend.

Today is a Robert Frost day here today in Boston, a cold New England winter day. Mel loved the poetry of Frost and has many of his first editions. Mel took the road less traveled and that has made the difference in his life and contributions.

I would like to share a few of my memories of Mel.

As a mentor Mel led by example. He was not a hands-on nurturing type. But if you worked hard and were loyal to him, he would work with you and give you some feedback. He gave me opportunities to write articles with him, to speak and become known nationally. Working with Mel was like parallel play. His dedication and enthusiasm however were infectious. It was exciting to work with him. No one could copy Mel with his work with children. That was his specialized area, and he himself developed the concepts and techniques.

Many of his former fellows and followers have gone on to develop their own areas of expertise and make contributions at the national level. Some are here today like Lenny Rappaport, Frank Oberklaid, Paul Dworkin, Neil Schecter, Judy Palfrey, Patricio Vives, Karen Miller and others who may be here.

Mel’s creativity, optimism, insight, compassion and humor affected us all.

Mel was able compartmentalize his many interests and able to focus on each activity with intensity. For instance, he may have received a $20,000 contribution the hour before, but not even mention it in a later conversation about a patient.

Among his many interests were clinical work, training residents and fellows, research and writing, speaking engagements, his gourmet club, animals, musing, time alone, Mozart, single malt Scotch, reading, the Carolina / Virginia Waterfowl and Pheasant Society (which he founded), fundraising for his Institute, spending time with friends and spending time with Bambi.

He loved his wife Bambi most of all, and despite his long hours of work during the week he told me that, “on the weekends I am married to Bambi.”

Mel, Bambi, my wife Julie and I spent many countless happy times together: taking 3-day trips to the annual waterfowl art festival on the Chesapeake Bay, many dinners together, trips on the road for barbecue and bluegrass events and sharing Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays at each others homes. We shared many 3-way birthday parties with Steve and Susie Schwarcz in Chapel Hill. Mel and I had hundreds of lunches together, often picking out restaurants where we could people-watch together – one of our favorite activities, watching the hippies and the yuppies.

Before dinner, at our homes or at restaurants, we loved to sit for an hour sipping single malt, talking and telling jokes until our sides hurt. He loved spending time with my son Justin, often at the fireplace at our home. He admired Justin greatly for his work in the Clinton White House. After Justin died, Mel read a Robert Frost poem at his memorial.

Mel and I also spent countless hours in his office, chatting, talking about patients, catching up with each other’s lives – and these spontaneous chats are among my favorite memories.

Mel and I had wonderful times going to meetings of the Carolina / Virginia Waterfowl and Pheasant Society held every four months in small rural towns and attended by farmers, good-ole boys in bib overalls, some wearing Confederate Flag baseball hats, VFW pins on their shirts and most of these folks smoked or chewed tobacco. Despite our outward differences we were all united in our love our birds. We did tailgate sales, chatted about birds and taking care of them. Someone would give a speech on a related topic and we would we eat a barbecue lunch with ice tea – very sweet ice tea. Mel would arrive in his Lands-End shirt, L.L. Bean pants, old work boots covered with manure and a John Deere baseball hat. He was in his element.

Mel often bought geese and pheasants at these meetings, never telling Bambi – when she wasn’t with us. As we drove home in the early evening he joked about how he would sneak the new birds into his pens at midnight when Bambi was asleep and presumably would never know of these new additions. But…Bambi knew Mel, and the next morning she would make a tour of the pens and discover the new birds.

Mel got me started on my own waterfowl collection, now up to about 60 geese and ducks of many varieties. Speaking of ducks, I have a little story I’d to share with you. At many of our meetings I would often introduce Mel or speak ad-lib at a reception. I would remind the audience about Mel’s openness and acceptance to all kinds of kids with all kinds of minds and that he told me that what he wanted engraved on his gravestone were the words, “He Never Owned a Duck.” This invariably drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Mel’s beloved people in his life were Bambi his wife of 42 years, his niece Beth, his deceased sister (Beth’s mother) and his older brother Leonard.

I will end as I started, it’s a Robert Frost day here today, a cold New England winter day. Mel took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference in his life and contributions. Now the road has ended. The woods are silent. Overhead, a lone goose is flying. Its lonely “honk honk” is fading in the sunset. I love you Mel. We all love you Mel. Thank you for 71 years of inspired life. We will miss you. Goodbye Mel.

Jason Mitchell

Nephew of Dr. Mel Levine

The first airplane flight I ever took by myself was Boston to North Carolina to see my Aunt Bambi and Uncle Mel. I was always excited to go to North Carolina because I knew I’d get spoiled by my Aunt and get to hang out with my uncle. We’d feed the animals, ride the tractors and play with the ever growing array of farm toys. There was my best friend Margot, old Rose and the whole family of white German Sheppards that looked like Tari and were happy to be my friends.

Mel would wake me up as the sun was first coming up to go do the farm chores with him and we’d head down to the barn to stock up on feed and supplies. We would spend the next couple hours together replacing food, cleaning out the pens, checking eggs and doing everything else that life on the farm takes. The whole while Mel would tell me about which birds were behaving, which were causing trouble, efforts to keep the foxes out and all the other animal drama going on at Sanctuary Farm. For a nephew, this was at good as it gets.

There was also another side of Mel. The serious time on the trips when Mel and I would talk about how things were going. Like lots of kids I had trouble getting started in school. I had trouble reading and was lumped into a group of students at the bottom of the academic totem pole. Needless to say, this didn’t make me feel good about myself. Mel understood and would talk to me about it. He helped diagnose how I learn, recommended I start going to see his colleague and through this I learned how to read. My grades started to go up as did my social life and most importantly, I started to gain self confidence. By the time I graduated High School and then College I was ready to take on the world. When I went to see Mel about a year ago he agreed and told me in my personal life and in business I would have a lot of success. He told me he was proud and excited for my future. Coming from Mel, my famous uncle and friend, this meant the world to me and always will.

Marc Mitchell

Brother-in-law of Dr. Mel Levine

Few men have the ability to change the world. Mel was one such man. Every child who struggled to read a book, who felt left out of the teacher’s view, who felt alone and couldn’t keep up with her peers in school was helped by Mel Levine. His brilliance was focused and eloquent, defining and redefining new academic and intellectual realms. He showed the world that because we are all different, we all learn differently and we posses “all kinds of minds.”

Mel had three passions: The first was my sister, Bambi whom he met 45 years ago at Children’s hospital. He a resident, she a social worker, they fell in love and have stayed together in Concord, Manila and North Carolina. They raised dogs, cats, mules, donkeys – mammoth donkeys, horses, bulls and of course, birds. They also kept swans who mate for life and swim in their pond together.

His second passion was animals and food. It was hard to distinguish when the cats are Brie, Gruyere and Boursin, the dogs are Chablis, Riesling and Fleurie, the goose was Pate, the mule was Rosé and even the Bull was Jonnie Walker Black. Their house became an animal farm, their garage a rookery, all of it a sanctuary for the rare, the endangered, the ornate, the exotic. Mel never did anything halfway.

His third passion was his work. Up at 4:30am to write the next chapter of his next book while others slept. Then he was off to a clinic where he saw thousands of kids struggling for acceptance by their teachers, peers and parents. He wouldn’t accept that these kids were lazy underperformers but identified the mismatch between a child’s unique learning style and the expectations of his teachers, peers and school systems. He felt empathy for each of his patients who struggle to be accepted in a demanding and unsupportive world. But his impatience led him to go beyond helping kids one on one. He moved on to help children classroom by classroom, city by city, country by country. His books became best sellers in academic libraries and airport bookshops. His lectures were attended by thousands and hundreds of thousands of doctors, teachers, parents, and children. He found himself on television ranging from a PBS documentary to a discussion with Oprah. He could not and would not stop until he had changed the world; until we all recognized each child’s individual ability to make a contribution. He dedicated one of his books to “students who too often have felt the horrible pain of isolation or humiliation – in the hope that his work could help them find happiness and acceptance.” His was the true meaning of “no child left behind.”

But success had its price. Shy and withdrawn by nature, Mel was unprepared for the prominence that came with his work. He was unprepared for the lack of privacy, for the demands of constant travel, for the demands of being a celebrity. And most of all he was unprepared for those who would bring down someone who shows too much brilliance, too much success, too much publicity. He was unprepared for the mean and untruthful accusations of wrong doing, when in his heart he knew he had done no wrong. He was unprepared for a world in which his integrity, his morals, his work was challenged on a world stage in ways that he could not defend.

So we are gathered here today to celebrate a man who gave everything he had to make the world a better place for all kinds of minds. His death is a great loss to us as a family and to the children, parents, and educators whom he touched directly and indirectly. Few of us have the opportunity to change the world. And few who have that opportunity actually succeed. But Mel was different. He had the opportunity and he embraced it in a way that he embraced everything he did: without compromise. As a result, the world is a better place for millions of children around the world who have benefited from his teaching, his writing, his advocacy, his passion. The world is a better place because of Mel Levine.

A Tribute to Mel Levine 2011

I remember that day.
My first on the UNC assessment job.
Paired with a doctor, Mel someone.
I hear he’s famous. Brilliant. Demanding.
Insightful. Caring. High expectations.
But completely unknown to me. I’m nervous.
I study quickly – his books brilliantly written.
Familiarity of ideas, new vocabulary,
Clarity of thought, exciting new connections for learning.
Makes me think, makes me smile.
That first assessment with him is astonishingly eye-opening for me.
His intelligence imparted in immensely clear language.
For twelve years I learn in his presence.
My clinical skills honed and nurtured.
Kids are helped to understand
Strengths, weaknesses, affinities.
Demystified. Successful.
Repeated positive learning supports for hundreds of unique kids and families.
All Kinds of Minds.
But much much more.
A best-selling author. An inspiring teacher.
A lover of the arts. And good food and wine.
His beloved menagerie: sweet giant donkeys, intelligent geese, gorgeous noisy waterfowl. And more.
Then accused of the unthinkable.
Not true. Not right. Too much to bear.
I’m so very sad and sorry.
An amazing mind. An amazing man. A giver of hope and help.
A life ruined by an immoral attorney’s greed.
-Ann Brownlee Hobgood, UNC Center for Development and Learning/All Kinds of Minds, 1996-2009

Jenifer Fox is an internationally published author, educational keynote speaker and leading innovator on 21st Century Learning. Her groundbreaking book, Your Child’s Strengths, a Guide for Teachers and Parents (Viking/Penguin) is widely accepted as the definitive guide to developing success through a focus on strengths for children. Jenifer authored The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists (Wiley) and has created Differentiated Instruction, an online professional course for teachers.

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