Martin Levin’s voice, slightly quivering from the remnants of tears, confidently announced to those at his father’s outdoor funeral that once the world is safe from COVID-19, a true celebration would be held for his dad.
“It will be a blowout party,” Martin said. “It will be a Fred Levin celebration.”
UF’s Levin College of Law namesake Fredric Levin died Jan. 12 due to COVID-19 complications. He was 83 years old.
Levin graduated from UF law school in 1961, and UF renamed it to the “Fredric G. Levin College of Law” in 1999 after receiving a $10 million donation from Levin. Though he struggled academically during his time as an undergraduate student, he graduated among the top of his class in law school, UF College of Law Dean Laura Rosenbury said.
“He was always an advocate for the underdog,” Rosenbury said. “He always reminded me that he had a very low undergraduate GPA and that the dean of the law school at the time when he started assumed he would not graduate.”
Levin went on to not only graduate but become one of the nation’s most successful attorneys. He then used the success and wealth he accumulated to give millions of dollars to universities and organizations.
Levin won several awards throughout his life and was named as the top civil litigator in Florida by the National Law Journal in 1994. The pinnacle of his legal career was reaching a $13 billion settlement with the tobacco industry that saves over 100,000 lives every year, according to the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm.
Rosenbury said Levin’s generous contributions to UF have created opportunities for students through numerous scholarships, and his positive example illustrates the power of a law degree.
“He pushed me to take the law school to new heights,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have progress to go, and I will hear his voice in the back of my head as I move forward.”
Levin was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, under a roof that housed him and his five brothers. He met his wife, Marilyn, during his time at UF, and after raising four children together and 51 years of marriage, she passed away in 2011, according to the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm.
Mark Proctor, president of the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm, worked with Levin for over 40 years. He said Levin’s Jewish heritage often left him feeling like an outsider, especially growing up.
“It was that experience learned at a young age that really molded and colored his entire life,” Proctor said.
Levin developed a heart for every man, which allowed him to represent and give a voice to the people he worked with throughout his career, Proctor said. He won more than 25 verdicts in excess of $1 million with some cases involving the wrongful deaths of a child, housewife and wage earner, according to the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm.
“He was always looking to level the playing field,” Proctor said. “His spirit will live on in our law firm and in the work we do forever.”
Levin was known for more than his life as a lawyer. He was a father, a grandfather and a loving family man.
In the funeral service conducted by his family, his granddaughter, Jacqueline Goodman, 33, reflected on the man she knew as her fun-loving grandfather.
“To me, he was grandpa,” she said. “My grandpa, who would make up silly songs about berries and threaten to sing them at our school talent show.”
During the funeral, Levin’s family members also recalled how he was an avid fighter against racial injustice, bigotry and greed.
“Dad had a very difficult time even understanding how someone could be prejudiced,” Martin Levin said. “And dad never hesitated, in any capacity, to speak up against the majority, against the authority, against the established and against the popular.”
UF Levin College of Law plans to create a tribute webpage in Levin’s honor. Students, staff and faculty can email Assistant Dean for Messaging and Outreach Whitney Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org with any thoughts or memories, and gifts to the College of Law can be made in Levin’s honor.
Contact Abigail Hasebrock at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbeyhasebroock.
Abigail is a second-year journalism major covering university general assignment news for The Alligator. When she’s not catching up on school or reporting, she’s spending time outside, reading or reorganizing her Spotify playlists - usually all at the same time.