Mimi Le­vitt, arts pa­tron, pavil­ion bene­fac­tor, dies at 97

The Norwalk Hour - - OBITUARIES/NEWS - By So­phie Vaughan [email protected]­medi­act.com; 203-842-2638; @So­phieCVaughan1

WEST­PORT — Mimi Le­vitt lived the kind of Amer­i­can dream story usu­ally con­signed to movies. On Jan. 6, the story ended when Le­vitt, a pa­tron of The Le­vitt Pavil­ion for the Per­form­ing Arts in West­port and arts pro­grams na­tion­wide, died at the age of 97.

“She had a real im­pact on the per­form­ing arts in West­port and as a per­son, I al­ways found her warm, en­gag­ing, alert and aware of the things that were tak­ing pace, par­tic­u­larly at the pavil­ion,” First Select­man Jim Marpe said. “It al­ways in­spired me to see her at­tend­ing the per­for­mances be­cause I knew she was there be­cause of her love of mu­sic, her love of West­port, and her de­sire to be a part of our com­mu­nity.”

Born in Vi­enna, Aus­tria, in 1921, Mimi’s early life was spent sur­rounded by opera. At the out­break of World War II, Le­vitt im­mi­grated to the United States and soon af­ter at­tended Pomona Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia, where she grad­u­ated Phi Beta Kappa with a de­gree in French lit­er­a­ture.

In the 1940s, Le­vitt, a lin­guist flu­ent in five lan­guages, served as a trans­la­tor for the Nurem­berg tri­als and worked as an as­sis­tant to Al­fred Barr Jr., the first di­rec­tor of the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York City.

At a Man­hat­tan art gallery, Mimi met Mor­timer Le­vitt, founder of The Cus­tom Shop, which made hand-tai­lored shirts. The cou­ple hit it off over their shared love of art and af­ter a brief courtship, mar­ried in 1948. Al­though the Le­vitt’s pri­mary res­i­dence was in New York City, they spent sum­mers in West­port.

To­gether the Le­vitts used prof­its from the lu­cra­tive Cus­tom Shop to cre­ate the Mor­timer Le­vitt Foun­da­tion (later re­named the Mor­timer & Mimi Le­vitt Foun­da­tion in 2012), cre­ated in 1963.

With a fo­cus to trans­form pub­lic spa­ces into wel­com­ing des­ti­na­tions for free, live, mu­sic, the Le­vitt foun­da­tion sup­ported con­certs in 26 towns and ci­ties across the coun­try in 2018, in­clud­ing at the first Le­vitt Pavil­ion, opened in West­port in 1974. Mimi served on the board of West­port’s Le­vitt Pavil­ion for decades and reg­u­larly at­tended per­for­mances at the con­cert venue.

“She was a great friend to us and an ally to the Le­vitt Pavil­ion. Mimi’s sup­port of the cap­i­tal cam­paign for the New Le­vitt Pavil­ion was gen­er­ous and un­stint­ing,” said Freda Welsh, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Le­vitt Pavil­ion for the Per­form­ing Arts in West­port.

Af­ter Mor­timer died in 2005, Mimi be­came pres­i­dent of the Le­vitt Foun­da­tion and sup­ported its growth na­tion­wide. Le­vitt also con­trib­uted to arts or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera, Lin­coln Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, and the School of Amer­i­can Bal­let.

“The arts des­per­ately need gen­er­ous, phil­an­thropic in­di­vid­u­als like Mimi Le­vitt. So many have ben­e­fit­ted. In this cur­rent cli­mate of re­duced fund­ing for the arts, Mimi Le­vitt’s phi­lan­thropy will be greatly missed,” said An­drew Wilk, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Live from Lin­coln Cen­ter and a West­port res­i­dent.

In ad­di­tion to her fund­ing for arts and mu­sic pro­grams, Mimi was also ded­i­cated to his­toric preser­va­tion. In the 1970s, she spear­headed an ef­fort to pre­serve the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter of homes in her Up­per East Side neigh­bor­hood, which led to the cre­ation of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum His­toric Dis­trict in 1997.

Le­vitt is sur­vived by her two chil­dren, Liz Le­vitt Hirsch of Los An­ge­les and Pe­ter Le­vitt of New York, and her step-grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren.

So­phie Vaughan / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Mimi Le­vitt, a phi­lan­thropist and long­time West­port res­i­dent, died at her New York home at age 97 on Jan. 6.

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