On the morning of July 17, 2023, Louise Levy, the oldest resident of the State of New York, departed this world at the age of one-hundred and twelve. Throughout her long life, which spanned two world wars and two global pandemics, she remained a lady in every sense of the word. She will be unfailingly remembered for her grace, positivity, and kindness.
Born Louise Morris Wilk on November 1, 1910, just days before the Wright Brothers’ first commercial flight. She was the daughter of Louis and Mollie (Morris) Wilk, whose German Jewish parents immigrated to Pennsylvania shortly after the American Civil War.
She came of age in Cleveland’s 26th Ward in the Roaring Twenties, during which her artistic father worked as a photographer, before managing a movie theater. The burgeoning film industry eventually drew the family to Manhattan, where her father seized an opportunity to illustrate posters for the latest releases. Louise, still a teenager, finished her diploma at Wadleigh High School in Harlem before attending Hunter College. In January of 1933, during the early years of the Great Depression, she faced one of the great tragedies of her life when her elder brother, Ralph, died of tuberculosis. He was just thirty-four.
It was on a cruise some years later that Louise met Seymour Levy, who came to adore her—and she him. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was then working as a salesman for I. Levy Sons, the housewares company founded by his father, which Seymour would eventually helm. After an extended courtship that included nights out dancing at the Stork Club, Louise Wilk and Seymour Levy were married on Friday, April 28, 1939, the eve of World War II. After the war, Louise gave birth to a son, whom she named after her deceased brother. Four years later, her daughter Lynn was born. For the rest of her life, Louise dedicated herself to motherhood, which became her defining purpose.
In the early 1950s, during the halcyon post-war boom, Louise and Seymour left the Upper West Side and moved their young family north to the suburb of Larchmont, where they purchased a home on Stuyvesant Avenue with a large wrap-around porch that would ultimately become the headquarters of I. Levy Sons — the cavernous basement turned into a warehouse for a dizzying array of home goods. Louise, who invariably did whatever needed to be done, went to work alongside Seymour as his office manager. For the next several decades, she played a steadfast role at the company as it navigated a rapidly changing marketplace.
Following her husband’s death in the summer of 1991, Louise embarked on an unlikely third act. She moved into The Osborn, the senior living community in Rye, where she fast became one of the most popular residents and something of a celebrity, known for her indomitable spirit, sense of humor, and, increasingly, her longevity.
As she entered her eleventh decade, newspaper and television reporters clamored to know the secret to her extraordinarily long life. Though she often ascribed it to a daily glass of red wine, her preternatural ability to take life as it came — with the utmost equanimity — must have played a role, said her family. Once asked to reflect on the values she prized most, she named honesty, loyalty, and being helpful to others.
The Rye Record sat down with her last year, for the fifth time in the last 25 years. The first time we met she was living independently and vigorously demonstrating some of the exercises she did in fitness classes. Knowing we too were avid readers she switched the conversation to great books. We’d ask to be seated at Mrs. Levy’s table at every Centenarian Luncheon at The Osborn, and she would always be leading the discussion and leaving us laughing. Last year, we were invited to meet her in her room. She apologized for not standing up to greet us. While her mobility, eyesight, and hearing were greatly diminished, her wit and curious mind were on full display. She said she felt fortunate to have a daughter who visited her nearly every day, and to know that when she departed this world, which she felt “should have happened much earlier!”, that she was comforted by the fact that her family remained close.
Louise Levy will be missed, not only by her two children, Lynn Neidorf of Larchmont and Ralph Levy of Atlanta, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren (with two more on the way), but by all those who had the good fortune to know her. The approach to life that she modeled, and the values she imparted, will long endure.