Remembering Harold Levine

Harold Levine — a giant on the local philanthropic scene — died peacefully at home yesterday. He was 95.

Professionally, he’s known as the co-founder — with Chet Huntley — of the Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver ad agency. Highly regarded for its creativity, the firm was in the forefront of providing career opportunities for women and minorities. In 1996, Levine received a diversity achievement award from the American Advertising Federation.

Levine was also a lifelong champion of education and the arts.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, as chair of the Freeport (New York) Board of Education, he steered that school system during a period of racial and political unrest. He later served as chair of the board of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

After moving to Westport, he committed himself to providing educational and arts opportunities to Bridgeport children.

As chair of Neighborhood Studios, he helped a small arts program grow into a large, thriving organization that now provides a broad array of music, fine art and dance education.

He often — and successfully — sought financial and other support from Westport, to benefit Bridgeport youngsters.

Levine is survived by his children, Rita and Jay; 4 grandchildren, and a great-grandson. He was predeceased by his wife Sue and brother Josh.

A funeral is set for Monday (February 13, 10:30 a.m.) at Temple Israel. Memorial contributions may be made to Neighborhood Studios, 391 East Washington Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06608.

In 2015, Harold Levine asked me to spread the good word about Neighborhood Studios. I was happy to oblige. At 93, he wrote the following plea:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

20 responses to “Remembering Harold Levine

  1. I am so sorry to learn this. I met Harold when I worked in Advertising many years ago. I was delighted to meet him again when I moved to Westport in 1983. He was a caring person who provided more than lip service to help the less fortunate. The community, and the world, is diminished by his passing.

  2. Sad news, but I am so happy that Harold was able to be so strong, so alert and to have continued working for the community until the very end. He was an amazing man who helped very many people…and an incredibly nice man as well.

  3. Rabbi Robert Orkand

    Harold was a giant in the world of philanthropy. As his Rabbi for more than 30 years I got to know Sue and Harold as among the most generous people I had ever known. Harold had a unique way of getting other people to give to me he causes he believed in. Alvin Alley, Neighborhood Studies, publicly education (for after all he was a former Last no Island school board chair)–these and so many causes benefited from his care and concern.

    Harold has now joined his beloved Sue. I’m sure they are already organizing a fund-raising campaign

    • Right – when Harold asked you to do something — and he was always calling up people to ask them to do something for his charitable causes — there was no way you could say no. He asked so directly, but so kindly.

  4. One of my favorite Harold quotes (from a 2013 Stamford Advocate interview) below: “Would you please bring in the list.”

    Q. What was the advertising industry like when you came out of college in 1939?

    A.The business was primarily made up of large successful agencies–Benton & Bowles, McCann-Erickson, Young & Rubicam and J. Walter Thompson. They were all basically white, Christian agencies. And so I started to go to them for a job but I couldn’t. They didn’t hire me.

    Q. How then did you get your first job?

    A. My brother, [who was in law school at the time], said, “There’s a woman in my class.” He said her husband or father–I can’t remember which–is in the advertising business.

    I made a date to see him in Rockefeller Center. We sat for about five minutes. He leaned forward and said to me, “You seem like a pretty bright chap. I think you’d do well in the advertising business. Have you been looking for a job?” I said yes, that I’ve been looking at McCann-Erickson, etc. And he said, “Forget it, don’t waste your time. They won’t hire you because you’re Jewish.”

    Then he pressed a button on his desk and a secretary came in with a steno pad and he said, “Would you please bring in the list?”

    [He gave me] the names of six New York advertising agencies that happened to be owned by Jews and said, “Tell them I sent you and if in three weeks you don’t have a job, come back and see me.”

    In one week I had job with a small advertising agency. Their major client was the Manhattan Soap Company.

    • Several years ago I asked Harold if “Man Men” was accurate. His reply: “No; things were actually worse!”

      • Or, more fun, depending on the type of person you were.

        • Keep in mind that the “Mad Men” storyline (which to me got insufferably boring after the first season) started in 1960, 21 years after Harold went into the biz.

          My dad – a retired ad man approx the same age as the fictional “Don Draper” – reports there was certainly anti-semitism and other despicable kinds of behavior going on in the business in the 60’s, but a far cry from when Jews could only a job at an agency on “the list” that was presented to Harold back in 1939.

          • Sharon Paulsen

            Interesting and timely comment Blau … a reminder of the recent past, lending a perspective nudge there.

  5. Cynthia Baumann

    RIP, Harold. You will be missed…

  6. My condolences to his family. What a legacy and an inspiration to others.

  7. I worked with Harold a few times. Never was a kinder gent! Rest now, Harold! You will be missed by many…..

  8. Why didn’t he move to Bridgeport?

    • I started “06880” in 2009. In that time, people have posted over 72,000 comments. Yours could be the most obnoxious one I’ve ever read.

      • Typical liberal! Never answer the question. Change the subject instead

        • Jeez – it used to be the Left Loonies who turned every story into a teachable moment for their cause du jour — now it’s the Loony Right. To paraphrase Trump: “So derivative.”

      • Sharon Paulsen

        Hmmm, the vitriol is strong in this one.

        But do not give in to the dark side, Dan!

        (I just had to “have me some Star Wars quotes”, for comic relief. Trolls, of the passive-aggressive nature, won’t get it anyway, b/c lack-of-empathy … so, more fun for us)!

        Condolences to the families and friends on the loss of a truly generous humanitarian.

  9. I worked at Levine Huntley for 5 years. When my husband and I moved to Westport, Harold and Sue welcomed us with open arms. We were invited to their annual New Years Day party where we marveled at their youthfulness and energy! They were a fantastic couple.
    RIP Harold.

  10. Harold was a great man.I worked with him on the marketing for a number of Neighborhood Studios benefits…his energy and dedication to the organization was amazing.I fondly remember his lunches in which the conversation would range from politics to adverting … but always ended up with an “ask” that you couldn’t turn down. Harold was a man I am proud to have known … his unwavering commitment to the Bridgeport inner city community is an inspiration to me.

  11. Harold Levine was a giant mover and shaker especially for the children of Bridgeport. His love for performing arts brought hope and purpose to the Neighborhood Studio. I will miss his. May he enjoy fundraising for the heavenly choir. My thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.