Simon A. "Si" Levit, a longtime Tulsa cardiologist who gave much of his
spare time and money in support of the arts, died Sunday. He was 75.
Levit had lived for more than 40 years in Tulsa, where he practiced at St. John Medical Center.
He was serving on the Tulsa Arts Commission as well as on the boards of
various other arts organizations at the time of his death.
Ken Busby, executive director of the Arts & Humanities Council of
Tulsa, said: "Si was a strong advocate for good art and what the arts
can do to enrich your community. He wanted to raise Tulsa's aesthetic
image, and he believed strongly in what the arts could do for young
people. His death leaves a great void in the arts community."
Busby, who leads the Arts Commission, said that as a member, Levit
helped secure the art for the BOK Center in 2007, which represented the
largest expenditure for public art in Tulsa's history.
"What I really appreciated about Si was he asked the tough questions,"
he said. "When we were considering a particular piece, he would insist
we ask: 'What is the impact of this? What statement does it make? Is
this the kind of art we want for Tulsa?' "
In 2004, Levit and his wife, Rita Levit, endowed the Levit Prizes for
Excellence in the Arts, giving Tulsa Public Schools art students a
chance to compete for annual cash prizes and scholarships.
Ann Tomlins, the school district's fine-arts coordinator, said that with
the Levit Prizes as motivation, participation has increased in the
annual district art show. Children and teachers wrote many letters to
Levit every year, thanking him for his support.
"One letter from a little boy said, 'I didn't win a Levit Prize this
year, but I'm going to try again next year.' Si kept that one. He loved
it because it meant that he had given him hope," Tomlins said.
It was as a boy himself, growing up in Philadelphia, that Levit decided he wanted to go into medicine.
Inspired by his childhood doctor, Levit always spoke with great respect
for doctors of earlier eras, those who worked out of their homes and
became neighborhood heroes.
Graduating from Chicago Medical School in 1963, Levit interned at
Philadelphia General Hospital before serving two years as a captain in
the Air Force.
After continuing his training with the Mayo Clinic and then Ohio State University, he moved to Tulsa in 1970.
In addition to his private practice, he provided free services at Tulsa
clinics and was an instructor at the University of Oklahoma College of
Chairman of the St. John Physician Endowment, Levit also created an endowment for nursing education.
He began collecting art many years ago when a patient gave him a painting as payment for services.
"It was a work by Acee Blue Eagle," said Levit's son, Ken Levit. "Dad loved that painting. He still had it at his home."
Simon Levit came to support many artists personally over the years.
"He loved to get to know artists," his son said. "The more he built those relationships, the more he collected their work."
Levit donated countless pieces to museums, schools and other institutions.
Simon and Rita Levit were presented a state Governor's Arts Award in 2005 for their contributions to the arts in Oklahoma.
OU President David Boren said Levit "understood the way in which the
arts are an essential part of education. ... His generosity and vision
have left a lasting legacy for young Oklahomans for years to come."
Levit also was passionate about baseball. An avid collector of baseball
art and memorabilia, he brought legends of the sport to Tulsa for
dinners to raise money for various causes.
He was a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies fan, and one of Levit's favorite
moments came three years ago, when he got to take his grandson to a
Phillies-Yankees World Series game.
"Dad was a great dad and family man," Ken Levit said, adding that his
father's greatest influence on him was "the commitment he showed in
doing his job to the highest level of professionalism and his commitment
to his community."
Ann Tomlins added: "I don't know what the world is going to do without
him. Si was a guiding star. ... He always put students first and wanted
to find any way to help them make something of their lives. And he was a
true, loyal and constant friend to teachers."
Levit's survivors include his wife, Rita Levit; one son, Ken Levit; a daughter, Jennifer Cowan; and four grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Tulsa Public Schools' Arts
Excellence Fund through the Tulsa Community Foundation or to a charity
of choice, family members said.