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.