In Their Own Words: Colleagues and Former Students Remember Professor John Levy

John's many friends from the William & Mary community shared these thoughts following news of his death on April 2. If you have a remembrance of him that you would like to share, please send it to Jaime Welch-Donahue at jpwelc@wm.edu. Remembrances will be posted on this site and passed on to his family.


The thing I will remember the most about John is his even demeanor and his kind, caring, and sharing soul.  John’s stories about the ACLU and Peace Corps helped me have an open mind about things that were new and literally foreign to me. To this day, I know more about wiccans than anyone I’ve ever met (except John, who told me about his role in litigation protecting their right to conduct marriage ceremonies). He was always open to sharing his views and hearing yours, and was never judgy if the views differed.

The thing I remember most about John, though, weren’t the conversations or the feely fish he gave me (which is still on my desk in my office in Austin). Instead it was the warm and simple exchange we had when we saw each other in the hallways “howdy” I’d always say and he’d always say “greetings.”

He was a gem, and I’ll miss him.

A.  Mechele Dickerson
University Distinguished Teaching Professor
Arthur L. Moller Chair in Bankruptcy Law and Practice
The University of Texas at Austin School of Law
W&M Law Faculty, 1995-2006

On Sunday, we lost a most beloved and valuable member of the Law School, Professor John Levy. He was one of the first professors I met when I came to the Law School in 1998. Because I had come from Johns Hopkins, he always asked me what I thought about lawyers vs. scientists. I have to admit I really didn’t know how to answer him but I realized if lawyers were like John then I decided lawyers were really good people because John was kind, honorable, loyal, humble, positive, upbeat, a person who always looked after others, compassionate, a good listener, true gentleman, always had an easy smile and a “feely” fish to share. He was a loving husband, father and grandfather.  I know his family’s loss will be greater than mine but I am so grateful I had the opportunity to know him.

Cassi Fritzius
Executive Assistant to Dean of Law
W&M Law School

John was many years Director of the Madrid summer program. He was admired by the Madrid faculty for his charm and dedication and we all became his friends. He would bring us as presents his wondrous wood pieces or feelies. John taught us to care more for our students as human beings and worry less about external achievement. Hasta siempre, querido amigo.

Javier Guillen and José M. de Areilza
Visiting Professors, W&M Law School

“Greetings!”: John’s cheerful, unique way of saying hello . . . John’s special memories of Africa and the Peace Corps . . . Feely fish, talking sticks, and all things cedar . . . John’s lifelong service meeting the legal needs of low-income clients . . . John’s steadfast commitment to progressive causes . . . The gleam in John’s eyes and his broad smile when he talked about Kaye, their children, and their grandchildren . . . “Good show!”: John’s trademark way of expressing approval or gratitude . . .
 
For all you did, John, to enrich and better the lives of everyone privileged to know you, we say, “Good show!”

Robert E. Kaplan
Associate Dean and Professor of the Practice
W&M Law School

So many fond memories of my friend and confidante John Levy.

Here is a favorite: years ago I was struck by a story in the New York Times about what I thought was questionable ethical behavior by a criminal defense lawyer.  I went to my ethics mentor, John, and asked him what he thought.  He strongly disagreed with the article and believed the lawyer’s actions were correct and commendable. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought John was not correct.  I told him so, and we went on about this for a time. Finally, I invited John to my class where we had a public debate with students asking some mighty tough questions of the two of us.

Not sure which one of us got the better of the argument, though we went at it vigorously. After the debate, John and I went to lunch, enjoyed the company of the other, and laughed a good deal about how vigorous the students’ questioning had been.

That was John Levy.  He could disagree with you, but he was never never disagreeable.  What a wonderful person.
 
Paul Marcus
Haynes Professor of Law
W&M Law School

I always enjoyed talking to Professor Levy and looked forward to his occasional visits to the Law School. He would always ask me, “you’re still a working stiff?” He seemed always cheerful & upbeat, not to mention energetic. It was a shock to hear he was gone. I will miss him.
 
Derek Mathis
Faculty & Academic Support Center
W&M Law School

As a fairly recent addition to the law school, I never worked with John Levy. In fact, I only met him once last summer but he left a warm and lasting impression. As he was walking past my office, he stopped in and asked what I did. After a friendly conversation about our careers in public service and his in the clinic, he offered me a fish – a random and delightful gesture to a near stranger. He told me all about making his wood feely fish and how satisfying it was to make something of substance after spending so many years on the intellectual but amorphous outcomes in the law. I still have my fish on my desk and it makes me smile. I am glad I had the chance to meet him.  
 
Lindsay J. McCaslin
Assistant Dean, Office of Career Services
W&M Law School

Greetings to all who loved John. And who didn’t love John, after all?  . . . so greetings to everyone. John was the gentlest soul I have ever known. I shared an office suite with him for most of my 21 years at W&M (1988-2009). I loved seeing him every day. He changed me. By doing nothing more than being, he changed me. There was no choice. I had to be a better person because he was my friend. No single thing caused this effect: just John being John. There was a field or zone or force around him that oh-so-gently drew you in. And the closer you got to him, the better.
 
I know I was not alone in being made better by being near John. I was just one of the luckiest ones because I saw him nearly every working day for 21 years. I have only rarely seen John since I moved away in 2009. But he never left me. And he never will.
 
James E. Moliterno
Vincent Bradford Professor of Law
Washington and Lee School of Law
W&M Faculty, 1988-2009

Alas, I have no favorite stories to recount, but I do have a keen recollection of my last decade (of five full decades) at William & Mary's fine law school, and a keen desire, therefore, to share access to those who have something special to recall of a mutual and memorable colleague.

Bill (William) Van Alstyne
Lee Professor of Law
W&M Faculty, 2004-2013

When I entered W&M Law School in 1982, Professor Levy sought me out because I had previously worked with Legal Aid.

He was a kind and generous man who not only helped me obtain part time employment and volunteer opportunities with Legal Aid but also helped me get daycare for my son, who was 2 at the time, through an organization his wife headed.

I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing, he was a great man, a caring mentor and was dedicated to ensuring that legal services were obtainable to all even those with limited resources.

I send my condolences to his wife, children, family and friends

Valerie Warner J.D. '85

John was my first friend at William and Mary. For a year or so, before I had an official office, we shared a tiny room at the back of a long hallway and got to know each other well. John introduced me to the political complexities of the law school and warned me of potential landmines. We often went to lunch together at Chez Trinh, where a dish on the menu was named after him.  When I needed someone to demonstrate aspects of other legal systems in my Comparative Law class, he was always a ready volunteer. When Charles Koch and I created a new course in Civil Code Litigation, John promoted it among students and showed up for many of the classes. When a group of French judges came to the law school one Saturday to demonstrate a criminal trial under the civil code system, John sat in the front row.  He loved new ideas.

John also loved meeting and talking to people, and he loved Africa – and he loved Nigeria more than anywhere since that was where he met Kaye.  When the two of us were hired to do an assessment of the Nigerian legal aid system in 2003, John was the perfect colleague. Over the course of a month, we traveled from Kano in the north to Lagos on the southern coast in rattletrap taxis with no windows, over hundreds of miles of bumpy dirt roads.  There were many flat tires.  At night we frequently had no electricity, and the temperature routinely stayed above 100 degrees until dawn.  In Jigawa, the far north of the country, we spent a week interviewing villagers, imams and state court administrators, trying to analyze the best way to increase delivery of legal services to the poor. Each evening we returned to our rustic guesthouse, where we had no lights and often no running water, to eat the same dinner: boiled rice and stringy chicken, the only meal available. John did not mind; food was not an important part of his life. Half way through the trip we had to separate for a week in order to finish our interviews on time, and John went to Ekiti while I left for Enugu and Benue. That was a lonely week; I missed my cheerful working companion. Not surprisingly, when we reunited a week later John had a group of new Nigerian friends in tow and a new collection of Nigerian music with him.  I was regaled with stories of long evenings of conversation and extended family dinners and felt quite sorry for myself for having missed it all.

John’s feely fish and talking sticks were of course legendary. One of the sticks he was proudest of was the one he made for the Dalai Lama during his visit to W&M in 2012. I was given responsibility for putting together a gift basket for His Holiness and undertook with gusto the research necessary to discover his food preferences.  By the time it was finished, the basket was filled to the brim with All Things Ginger, His Holiness’ favorite flavor – ginger ale, ginger cookies, candied ginger and a fresh ginger root. At the last minute, however, John decided that what His Holiness really needed was a talking stick. He went home and spent the rest of the week finding just the right piece of cedar and carving it into one of his more beautiful sticks, which crowned the basket. (Photo attached here.) At the conclusion of his visit, the Dalai Lama drove off in the limousine ordered for him, his gift basket and talking stick on his saffron-robed lap.  John loved that.

Christie S. Warren
2016-17  Fulbright Schuman Chair at European University Institute
Professor of the Practice of International and Comparative Law
Director, Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding
W&M Law School

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