When David H. Levin (JD 52) died in January at 73, the University of Florida’s law school lost one of its greatest benefactors and successful and prominent alumni.
The oldest brother of Fredric G. Levin, namesake of UF’s law school, David built an impressive career in law after graduating second in his UFLaw class. A lifelong supporter of the college, he donated more than $1 million over his lifetime and left a large portion of his estate to his alma mater.
“Other than his family, the University of Florida was his main love,” says his brother Fredric. “He lived and breathed Gator.”
Three years after graduating, David co-founded the Pensacola firm now called Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Eshsner & Proctor. His best friend and founding partner, Ruebin Askew, went on to become governor of the state.
“He was a very warm and caring man who was my closest friend for 45 years,” Askew says. “He was an exceptionally bright lawyer and had tremendous integrity and professional competence. He had a great sense of humor and cared about people.”
Levin graduated from high school when he was 16, and received his bachelor’s degree at Duke University. But his heart was in Florida.
“I never did feel at home there,” he told Levin family biographer John Appleyard, who wrote An American Dream: The Levin Family Chronicles. “Duke was a rich man’s school.”
He graduated in 1949 and enrolled at UF, where he felt comfortable.
“What a difference that campus made!” he told Appleyard. “ I could hardly believe what was happening to me. . .To me, Florida was all a university should be, while Duke had seemed almost like a prison. I loved Florida!”
He graduated with honors and joined prosecutor John Lewis Reese, the Escambia County solicitor responsible for prosecuting all non-capital criminal cases in the county. Levin was drafted two months later and joined the Air Force, where his legal training came in handy.
“I was a full-fledged lawyer, and the Judge Advocates Service needed attorneys,” he said. “I was made an officer, a first lieutenant.” Levin was shipped to Korea in November 1952 and spent a year there during the war.
When he returned to the states and was discharged, he joined the firm of Robinson Roark & Hopkins, and a year later, opened his own practice specializing in family law. His first cases included military court martials, civil cases and jury trials in DUI, murder and rape.
In 1958, he took Askew on as a partner.
“David was a solo practitioner, then we went in together and began the firm,” Askew says. “He leaves a legacy of an exceptionally good law firm, but more than that, David was a lawyer’s lawyer and enjoyed great respect among his peers. We all miss him.”
The same year, Levin married Joyce Lindy, a Mobile, Ala., kindergarten teacher he met on a blind date. Their daughter Lisa was born soon after with a defect in a heart valve that required immediate surgery at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Lisa pulled through, and Levin’s allegiance to UF was cemented even more strongly.
In 1971, Askew was elected governor of Florida, a position he held for eight years. During his terms, Levin served as his personal attorney and legal advisor and state director of pollution control.
Levin was inducted into the UFAthletic Hall of Fame in recognition for his efforts on the behalf of the football team, and became a Bull Gator.
“He got involved in recruiting and had more than a little to do with Emmitt Smith playing at UF,” said Askew.
“I think from his standpoint, as he got older, the University of Florida became everything to him, even more so than his practice of law,” said Fredric. “He even learned how to use the computer just to get the Internet to read about the university. It became his everything.”
Professor Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, who holds the David H. Levin Chair in Family Law, said, “David Levin created a lasting legacy by endowing a chair in family law. His gift provided the catalyst for UF to develop its family law and policy resources. Creation of the Center on Children and the Law and the Certificate Program in Family Law, made possible by his generosity, puts UF into the top tier for the study of family law. But his most valuable legacy is the new generation of family advocates, judges and scholars we will produce.”
Away from UF, Levin chaired the United Jewish Appeal and served as president of the American Cancer Society. Town & Country magazine recognized him as one of the best lawyers in the country.
Levin is survived by two children, Lisa and Richard.