In Memoriam – Donald Levitan

NORTHAMPTON – Donald Levitan, 90, died peacefully at his home at the Lathrop Retirement Community in Northampton on April 3, 2018, after a short illness.

Don was a big man with a big spirit. He loved ice cream, opera, travel, children, nature and people-watching. He talked to every clerk and waiter, every person in line at the grocery store, interviewing them about their lives with a big smile. He loved to sit in the sun outside the Lathrop meetinghouse, greeting his fellow residents as they came for their mail. His idea of a spiritual experience was a cup of coffee and a couple of people to talk to. He was also known to gaze at a particular tree branch outside his study window for an hour, saying, “We’re having a conversation.” But what might be seen as eccentricity in an aging man belied his abilities and accomplishments.

Don was a brilliant public administrator, an expert in grants administration and finance, and a scholar of Massachusetts governance. Author of several books, Don’s comprehensive “Your Massachusetts Government,” published in 1980, provides a detailed, sourced understanding of local, regional and statewide governance and operations. Its 300 pages include historical background and chapters on the legislative process, the judicial and electoral systems, and governance.

Don shared his passions everywhere he landed. When he moved to Northampton in 2012, he became involved in the senior center and wrote an occasional column for its newsletter. He also volunteered for the Survival Center and participated in the Lathrop community in Northampton.

Don was born in Boston on Jan. 11, 1928, and grew up in Dorchester and Allston. He graduated from Boston English high school. His parents wanted him to go into the family business, podiatry, but he had other ideas. After leaving the Navy in 1946, he earned a B.S. from Boston College and an M.A. from Syracuse University. Then he moved to Long Island, New York, where he worked in construction and real estate, married, and began a family.

In the late 1960s, he worked for the regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in New York while completing his Ph.D. in public administration from New York University, where he was an honors scholar. After completing his doctoral studies in 1972, Don moved back to the Boston area to be director of intergovernmental relations in Newton. In 1974 he accepted a position at Suffolk University as a professor of public management and administration, and worked there until his retirement in 1994. While at Suffolk, he served as the chair of the department and director of the Center for Public Management and the public administration program.

Deeply civic-minded, Don felt a strong sense of responsibility to the community. His decades of public service also included working with the Massachusetts departments of community affairs and mental health, the Chinese Cultural Alliance, the National Council on Aging, and as a member of the special commission for the 200th Annual Massachusetts Constitution. He was finance editor of the National Civic Review for many years and wrote a column that he continued well into his retirement.

To all who knew him, Don was a large presence, with strong feelings. He could be infuriating one moment and utterly endearing the next. Over the course of his lifetime, he lived in a number of locations, pursued several careers at a variety of jobs, and was a member of (eventually) two families. His ability to adapt and learn, his embrace of love and loving, and his deep work ethic made his remarkable life path possible. He is irreplaceable and he will be missed.

Don is survived by his wife, Cynthia Nyary, and his four children: Julie Levitan Rockowitz and the late Noah Rockowitz of New Rochelle, New York, Neal Levitan of San Francisco, California, David Levitan and Amy Zimmerman Levitan of Sharon, and Ben Levitan and Sharon Peck Levitan of Weston. He is also survived by three stepchildren: Bondi Nyary of Portland, Oregon, Cate Nyary of Williamsburg, and Sasha Nyary of Leeds, and 14 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Evelyn Messer Levitan.

A memorial – with ice cream – will be held in late May. Please feel free to visit his bench in Look Park, located by the footbridge near the entrance.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Northampton Survival Center, 265 Prospect St., Northampton, MA 01060, or to the charity of your choice.

Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Apr. 13, 2018