Claudia Levy, R.I.P.

In the late 1970s, I had a great story about white flight from a Prince George’s County suburb of Washington, D.C. It involved whites acting on their racial biases and misperceptions of massive neighborhood change, putting their homes up for sale. Unscrupulous real estate agents, profiting from their fears, listed the houses at full market value but didn’t show them. Then, they’d offer to buy them for less and resell them at full price to black families, hiding the interim transaction.

Editors at the Washington Post wouldn’t touch it. One said the story was “inflammatory.”  To his credit, Bob Woodward, then Assistant Managing Editor for Metro, tried, assigning another reporter to write the macro-story of Prince George’s County, while I would give the microcosm.

But it never got in the paper. Until, that is, Claudia Levy became the real estate editor. She ran my investigative package in her section on two consecutive Saturdays in January 1980. It subsequently won an honorable mention from the National Association of Home Builders.  But the prize was far less significant than the publication itself—thanks to Claudia.

Claudia’s next job was as editor of the zoned Maryland Weekly. Under her leadership, I wrote a column called Maryland Life that allowed me to travel from Chesapeake to Appalachia writing about interesting people and places. The feature did not rank high with the top brass, but readers loved it.  I teasingly referred to her as my “Editrix,” a female editor in Latin.

Claudia went on to write obits for several years, until, in late 2003, she and I, among a group of 55, accepted buyout offers from the Post, the first of many.  While I have continued to commit journalism, Claudia never looked back, pursuing instead her artistic and choral talents. More than that, she managed to help others who had needs. Over the years, she advocated for women at the paper, fought for fair wages and working conditions at the Washington Post, and, away from work, she  helped the homeless. I called her Saint Claudia.

Who else would go with me to the D.C. Superior Court to be a witness at my divorce proceeding and then and there console my ex-wife? Then she attended my wedding on July 12, 1987. She and my wife Sandy remained especially close. Last Christmas, Claudia’s birthday, Sandy cooked her a meal. This Nov. 26, on Sandy’s birthday, Claudia “stopped by,” as she would always put it, to deliver a card (one she made, but never signed, so it could be reused), a plant and an apple cake. Two of our sons were still home, including David, who covers transit for the New York Post. “Oh my God,” she exclaimed, “a working journalist!”

She mentioned some cervical spinal surgery she was having in a few days.  The procedure was elective but intended to prevent problems later on.  Though she minimized it, it sounded like a pretty big deal, and risky for a 77-year-old woman with other health issues. The hospital did not keep her long, and the next day at home she had an embolism that killed her.  It was Dec. 3, a Friday, and we knew nothing about it. Sandy kept trying to call and text her over the weekend but got no response. We learned on Tuesday that she had died.

Claudia was under a lot of stress, caring for her 99-year-old mother and 100-year-old father at her home in suburban Bethesda since a tree had fallen on their house in the Northwest Washington a year before. Inexplicably, the District hadn’t issued work permits so the home could be made habitable again. There were homecare aides at Claudia’s, but it was not enough. Our dear friend was overwhelmed, yet reluctant to accept help or advice to ease her burden.

She took care of everyone but herself. It was ironic that her final, rare effort at self-care is what killed her. Claudia read all our son’s stories, and she was among the most loyal readers of this blog, earning five stars as an “often” subscriber. She opened my last post, according to my “activity feed.” But, sadly, not this one, or any one from now on.

Still, there is this, from author Isaac Bashevis Singer, spoken at the end of “Shtisel,” the streaming cable series about an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem. As dead characters fill the table laughing and talking, eating, passing pickles and challah, Shulem, the family patriarch, recites his words: “The dead don’t go anywhere. They’re all here…Everyone is here all the time.”

Claudia was the most recent of three former Post colleagues to die within the last few weeks: Ron Shafer, the paper’s original Doctor Gridlock, dead at 76 of congestive heart failure. Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor who I first knew as “Freddie,” when he came to the Post in 1981 from the shuttered Washington Star and married Post reporter Pooh Shapiro, dead at 66 of cardiac arrest.  And now Claudia Levy, who is very much still with us.

May their memories be for a blessing.

24 Comments

  1. Edwin S. Grosvenor on December 11, 2021 at 4:48 am

    What an inspiration!

  2. Emily Levenson on December 11, 2021 at 6:50 am

    A true angel…

  3. B. D. Colen on December 11, 2021 at 7:20 am

    What a lovely tribute, Gene, for a truly inspirational former colleague and friend. Thank you.

    • Kitty Chism on December 11, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      So we’ll put, Gene, a lovely remembrance of a beautiful soul! I did not know her well, but what of her I did know you captured beautifully! Hat’s off!
      Kitty Chism

  4. James McGrath Morris on December 11, 2021 at 8:20 am

    Fascinating story wrapped up in a lovely tribute.

  5. James McGrath Morris on December 11, 2021 at 8:21 am

    Fascinating story wrapped up in a lovely tribute. So many heroes of journalism are passing.

  6. Eileen McGuckian on December 11, 2021 at 8:32 am

    Gene, thank you for sharing this wonderful testimonial for a beautiful person who surely read it in heaven with a big smile on her face.

  7. Amy Worden on December 11, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful memories of Claudia. She was, among fifth floor habitues, one of the very few who treated us editorial/copy aides with respect and kindness, as well a fighter for leveling the tilted playing field in journalism. I had no idea of her artistic life beyond the newsroom and her selflessness to so many. She will be remembered.

  8. Steve Goldin on December 11, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Saint Claudia, indeed. Beautiful tribute, Gene. Sorry for your loss

  9. John Feinsstein on December 11, 2021 at 8:59 am

    SO saddened, Sticks, to hear this about Claudia and about Ron. Sadly, knew about Fred. Hope you are hanging in…

  10. John Feinstein on December 11, 2021 at 9:00 am

    SO saddened, Sticks, to hear this about Claudia and about Ron. Sadly, knew about Fred. Hope you are hanging in…

  11. Maura on December 11, 2021 at 9:21 am

    What a beautiful tribute and a terrible loss.

    • Bonnie Friedman on December 11, 2021 at 10:41 am

      A beautiful and moving tribute but also a sad reminder that caregivers too often overlook their own needs while caring for others

  12. Courtland Milloy on December 11, 2021 at 9:44 am

    The great things we learn about people after they are gone. All the years I knew Claudia and didn’t have a clue. Thanks Gene.

  13. Nancy S on December 11, 2021 at 11:00 am

    Beautiful tribute. Condolences to you, Sandy, David, Aaron and all who were touched by her spirit.

    xo from Florida

  14. Betty Medsger on December 11, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks, Gene, for your beautiful tribute to Claudia, a kind and loving person who touched many lives. She was a fierce advocate for fairness and equality. The words generous and friend personify her.

  15. Jane F. Levey on December 11, 2021 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you, Gene, for your lovely words and Gene and Sandy, for your caring relationship. Today is a day reminding me that I’m sorry not to have spent more time with Claudia, though we intersected in the worlds of art and music after she left the paper. As others have said, she made it a point of paying good attention to Post employees with no status at all, including us lowly researchers of the late ’70s. We all benefited from her kindness in an otherwise arid and pointlessly competitive newsroom.

  16. Neil Henry on December 11, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks for this, Gene. Claudia was truly an Angel. Here’s wishing you the best. – Neil

  17. Marilyn Siegel on December 11, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to your friend and colleague. I am so sorry for you and Sandy, and her parents. What a loss for you all.

  18. Craig Herndon on December 11, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    Claudia was a GIANT, not literally, but emotionally and compassionately. She was a friend to me and I suspect to everyone who was human. Always had a smiling greeting and serious consideration if you asked for it. She made my life at the Post good. From Union organizing to Newsroom staff meetings she was always on target. Peace, sweet sister.

  19. Patrick Tyler on December 12, 2021 at 10:24 am

    The things we should have known about those with whom we traveled. Many thanks and warm regards.

  20. Anthony Cohen on December 12, 2021 at 11:19 am

    Thank you Gene. What a lovely piece to savor on this gorgeous Sunday morning.

  21. Natalie Hopkinson on December 13, 2021 at 10:03 am

    This is such a loving and wonderful remembrance. Thanks for writing this Gene.

  22. Jeanne Fox Alston on December 13, 2021 at 10:08 am

    Beautiful tribute, Gene. Thanks for writing it. I’m sorry that I didn’t know Claudia better. Sorry, too, that I lost touch with many of my Post colleagues after I left.

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