It is with sorrow, yet a deep sense of gratitude for a life well lived, that the family of Florence Levy shares with the community her passing Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, at age 96 from COVID complications.
She is one of a long line of Delawareans, beginning with her grandparents, who arrived under the sponsorship of Baron Maurice de Hirsch from Belarus, Russia to Wilmington in 1881. Her grandfather, Isaac Krichevsky, was the originator of Kreston Liquors, a Wilmington institution. Her parents lived in Claymont, where Florence attended a one-room school, until they moved in the 1930s to Georgetown, where her father owned dry cleaning plants and Jerry’s Tavern, and where her mother baked award-winning cakes and was embraced by the Christian Science community.
Florence stayed with her aunt to graduate from Wilmington High. She was proudly married to Alex Levy, who old-time Wilmingtonians will remember as Sonny Levy. A sample of Florence’s wit, one of the hallmarks of her personality, was that if people pronounced her last name Levy, as in levy a tax, she would correct them: “Oh no, Hon, you only get to be Levy after your first million. We’re Leevys!”
She was lucky enough to have a second chance for romance later in life when her husband and the wife of her high school sweetheart, Joe Garber, died within a week of one another. Until Joe’s death, they happily “lived in sin,” as they liked to laugh, in their 70s and 80s, enjoying one another’s company in Rehoboth Beach, a town she loved dearly. Her connection to lower, slower Delaware ran deep. She enjoyed reminiscing about how during WW II, Florence, a glamorous Lauren Bacall lookalike, and her fellow nurses in training in Wilmington would go down to Georgetown where they danced conga lines around her parents’ house with the soldiers stationed nearby.
As a newly graduated RN and a new mother, Florence, her mother, and her infant daughter would sit on the beach in front of the Henlopen Hotel. When Beebe Hospital (a small frame house at the time) needed a special-duty nurse, they would call the front desk at the Henlopen, and the desk clerk would go down to the beach to fetch Florence so that she could go to Georgetown, put on her uniform, and go back to Lewes to nurse. Small Wonder Delaware at its finest. Trained at the Delaware Hospital, now the Wilmington Hospital, in a poetic full circle where she died, she loved everything there was to love about nursing. She rose to become the head of the Outpatient Department of Christiana. She was a smart and efficient administrator, but most notably, the legacy she leaves was her championing of the population now known as the underserved.
She volunteered on the board of Henrietta Johnson Hospital at its inception. In her work in the Outpatient Department at Delaware Hospital, she championed the rights of her patients. In her day, the clinic was the primary health care provider for poor people. When the hospital was renovating the clinic, she fought tirelessly to have it transformed into a dignified medical facility. She was most proud of the fact that she successfully accomplished adding small consulting rooms where patients could meet with their doctors privately. During that fight, she would chide the “powers that be,” as she called them, asking “How would you like to be told you have cancer standing in a hallway?” Respect for the dignity of each individual was the foundation of her career.
In addition to nursing, she was a gifted painter who studied with Edward Loper. Later in life, she enjoyed volunteering at Beebe Hospital, until she could no longer live on her own downstate and moved back to Wilmington. True to ladies of her generation, she was fastidiously groomed and wouldn’t dream of being seen without putting her “face on,” the way she described her careful application of makeup.
A few months ago, she took a nasty spill, resulting in a broken shoulder and the start of her ultimate decline. When asked how she fell, she exclaimed, “I was running to help an old lady!”
Florence is survived by her loving daughter and son-in-law, Lois and Howard Nachamie; her beloved granddaughter, Annie and her new grandson-in-law Pierce Thompson. The stars aligned so that she lived long enough to be a part online of the wedding of Annie and Pierce this past December. Although COVID was the medical diagnosis that ended a long, meaningful life, there’s a cosmic kindness and perhaps even cause and effect, that she held onto her place on the face of this earth long enough to witness and celebrate the marriage of the granddaughter she adored and the grandson-in-law she welcomed fully into her heart.
Some 10 years ago she instructed, “Hon, don’t forget to tell them how much I loved baking and knitting.” Well into her 90s, when asked how she accounted for being so vibrant at such a ripe old age, she offered: “A positive attitude and a shot of Scotch every day at 4:30.” It is ironic that she was married for so many years to Sonny Levy, a congenial athlete and teetotaler known as the “Milkshake Kid.”
In lieu of flowers, please send a contribution in Florence’s name to Beebe Hospital Nursing School, and use whatever profession, money and influence you wield in the world to champion those less fortunate than you, and treat every human being you encounter with respect and kindness. Please raise a glass of Scotch at 4:30 on the dot to the memory of a smart, funny, efficient, highly competent, disciplined, moral woman who made the world a better place.
She would have wanted to thank Forward Manor, where the entire staff was so lovely to her for the last four years; the kind, caring ladies who were her aides; the enlightened angels of Seasons Hospice who eased her way; and to send her very best to the people of Seaside Jewish Community, Kings Creek Country Club, Beebe volunteer department, the Merle Norman store, her “money people” at Ameriprise, and Sea Needles Shop, all of whom enriched her life. If she saw you reading this, she would call you Hon and ask how she could help you. At age 96, Florence Henrietta Spirer Levy leaves the world a better place for her very presence. She will be deeply missed by her immediate family, her nieces, nephews, and many, many friends.
Arrangements by Schoenberg Memorial Chapel.