Tome Coke MEXICO
May 10, 2015
Valley Green #3
May 12, 2015

LYDS – An Intimate Biography

President Nixon’s ‘Jewish Gypsy,’ Goodwill Ambassador to the World

LYDIA LEVINSON

Born:   May 22, 1910
Died:   October 14, 1993

An appreciation written by her son, Joel,
and read by Rabbi Waintrup at her funeral
on Sunday, October 17, 1993.

If you tried to follow her pointing arthritic index finger, you’d likely be in trouble. Her hand pointed in one direction, the finger in the other. Teased about the ambiguity, she would chuckle, for she likely knew that her hand and finger were the signposts of her life. You couldn’t always trust everything she said, but it’s likely you remembered her utterances. She was an original – from her hair which once went from orange to purple when she went to art school at middle age, to her clothes which she personalized with the help of a seamstress. Purple and orange were also her favorite colors for the bands she added to shirtsleeves and cuffs. Her humor was oftentimes self-deprecating; hilariously so! Other times her ‘straight’ comments had an equally humorous import as when she told her lung doctor that one of her problems is that she breathes out, then in, while everyone else breathes in, then out.

She was the champion of the down-trodden, bringing home the homeless and the mentally ill, long before concerns of this sort were popular. She was generous, as if money had no value to her – and it may not have. She gifted strangers and made loans to friends, acquaintances and family members with no real determination to have them repaid. She was always there to help, to boost, to raise one’s vision upward and inward. Over time, however, she sometimes became a bit insistent. Nevertheless, her love remained constant.

Her first marriage to my father can be characterized as that of a bohemian, free-spirited waif to a good but rather conservative man who did not swim in the same currents as she. After their divorce, and her triumph over medical problems which brought her near to death, she traveled around the world in freighters bringing her unusual style of carefree gaiety, goodwill, and self-deprecating humor to people from all walks of life. Neither one’s station in life, nor race, nor religion, nor age, were barriers to her. She was one of the world’s oddest self-appointed ambassadors of human affection. When she finally had a car of her own, one of her first drives was to an orphanage to take some children for a ride. Her home on Glen Echo Road was a frequent refuge to the homeless and dispossessed.

Her second love was Philip Hazen Chase, a delightful Frenchman who was related to and worked for the DuPonts. A man of impeccable manners and polished social graces, he was, at the advanced age he met her, no longer entranced by the values of high society. Never married, he was deeply attracted to her non-conforming, unpredictable ways. She brought him back to life and in turn, he left her his possessions and some funds that made her life in later years not only comfortable, but enabled her to become a giver of gifts and very loose loans to relatives, friends and strangers.

The last man in her life, John Stone, was made for her. He oftentimes sat in shadows, spoke little, sometimes wore her hat, and occasionally carried her purse. He was a sad and lonely person whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust. They had traveled around North America, flying in John’s tiny old plane, or drove around visiting friends in their camper. She was greeted with open arms but soon had to be off to another state and another friend. The mother in Lydia, and the lost and wounded child in him, coupled with the vagabond in both, kept them together until his death.

She had gay times sprinkled within a life that was not altogether happy and fulfilling. Her sharp and inventive intelligence warranted a college education. But like her father, she was mostly self-taught and also like he, she was an atheist. But in the last few years she expressed some doubts about her doubts, and it was the assumption of some that she was hedging her bets and wanted to make sure the pearly gates would open for her. But if they were not open on arrival, it is one of life’s certainties that she would have arranged to chat for a few moments with God (if there is one). With one of his eyebrows raised in disbelief at this woman’s charm, fearless persistence, and unbounded vitality, he would, in short order, be entranced by the irresistible twinkle in her eyes and her probing questions about his up-bringing and her delightfully expressed suggestions that He (or She) spend some time with a therapist-so he could really be a happy person. And, if he needed a loan, well . . .

If her arrival is not already being prepared with trumpets, Lydia will find someone to open the gates; that was always her talent. Most likely however, she’ll return for a few more chats with us imperfect angels on earth . . . so prepare.

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