James A. Levitan, Life Member Emeritus of the MIT Corporation, loyal alumnus and tax attorney whose many contributions to MIT include the Levitan Prize in the Humanities for innovative scholarship by junior faculty, died after suffering a heart attack on May 14 in Bridgeport, Conn. He was 80.
"Jim was a giant among men--in physical stature as well as in generosity of spirit, kindness and wisdom. We benefited greatly from his untiring attention to the Institute's well-being. Jim was a devoted and trusted citizen of MIT. His absence will be sorely felt by the many friends and colleagues who were lucky enough to work and interact with him," said Dana Mead, chairman of the Corporation.
Levitan was elected to the Corporation in 1990 and became a Life Member in 1995. He served on the Corporation's Auditing Committee from 1991 to 2000, chairing it from 1994 to 1999. He also chaired the Ocean Engineering Visiting Committee from 1992 to 1999 and served for many years on the visiting committees for Humanities; Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Nuclear Engineering. He was a member of the Investment Committee from 1997-2000 and served on the Corporation Development Committee from 1988 to 1994.
"Jim Levitan was a wonderful supporter of the humanities at MIT. He endowed our most important prize, the Ruth and James Levitan Prize in the Humanities, which we award annually. He understood our culture and supported it in every sense," said Philip Khoury, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of history.
In 1988 he received the George B. Morgan Award for sustained excellence in Educational Council Activities, and in 1991, he received the Bronze Beaver, the highest award bestowed by the Alumni Association for distinguished service.
A lifelong horticulturist, Levitan believed all work--and life itself--required the same commitment and patience as nurturing a garden, he told Soundings in 1998. "There's a great satisfaction in completing a hard job, whether the problem is solving a complicated tax problem or preparing the rocky Connecticut soil for new hybrid rhododendrons," he said.
Levitan, who received the S.B. degree in chemical engineering from MIT, is associated with the Class of 1945; like many of his generation, his education was interrupted by military service. He completed his degree in 1948, after serving two years in the U.S. Navy (1944-1946).
He earned the L.L.B. degree from Columbia Law School in 1951, the same year he married Ruth White. He worked for the firm of Debevoise, Plimpton until 1965 and became tax partner and later, head of the Tax Department at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.
He is survived by his wife, their three daughters, Deborah, Judith, and Susan, and seven grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, May 20, at Leo Gallagher & Sons Funeral Home, 2900 Summer St., Stamford, Conn. A reception will follow. For more information, please call 203-327-1313.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 18, 2005 (download PDF).