Bob and Judith met in June 2000 when mutual friends, intent on matchmaking, feigned a need for moving-day help.
Each was living a life jam-packed with family, far-flung travel for work and pleasure, and the social engagements of single-through-divorce extroverts. Yet, as they shared getting-to-know-you stories over stacks of boxes and rolls of packing tape, Judith and Bob both decided they could eke out a little more time from those tight schedules, after all.
The then 50-somethings’ first date began at the Rosenbach museum, moved on to Rittenhouse Square for an art festival and lunch, then wound eastward for a walk along the river. It was getting dark when Judith invited Bob to her tiny Queen Village backyard, where she grilled fish and vegetables with herbs from her garden and served dessert baked with apples from her tree.
From then on, the two were together as much as possible, and usually laughing the entire time.
She grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and Medford, N.J. Then the director of sales and marketing for a publishing company whose clients included Vogue, Glamour, and Gourmet, Judith bought her city pad as soon as the younger of her two daughters went to college, but maintained friendships with a large group from Medford.
The Medford crew had a favorite kind of party: a Star Search-inspired lip-syncing and dance competition. Wondering what Bob would make of such silly fun, she invited him. He promptly bought the Grease soundtrack so that, after his daily commute from his New York-based job as a Liz Claiborne executive, they could practice a John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John duet. The day before their public debut, Bob took the CD to his barber, who cut his thick black hair into a Danny Zuko-inspired DA. Their version of “You’re the One That I Want” won the prize.
Judith and Bob traveled to Paris with the couple who introduced them, Hill and Nancy, and had so much fun at Parisian markets that they mostly skipped the fancy restaurants to cook for each other in their rental’s kitchen. The four also shared elaborate feasts at home, which Bob made more challenging with the launch of Alphabet Dinners: Every dish had to start with the same letter.
Bob raised three sons and a daughter and was devoted to them. Only when Judith realized she had fallen in love with Bob did she finally accept an invitation to meet his son, daughter-in-law, and first-born granddaughter in Washington, D.C. When they arrived, his daughter-in-law had a hot pot of coffee — Bob’s favorite thing — waiting. His son hugged and kissed him hello, and later, as everyone headed to the park, the two men walked arm in arm. This was something Judith wanted to be part of.
Bob soon felt the same way about her family. When her daughters or son-in-law had a problem, they would often call him for advice. Whether it was Grease routines or themed dinners or the extensive basket of emergency supplies he had kept well-stocked since 9/11, Bob was always the man who could plan.
He and Judith had lived together since Bob’s lease expired at the end of 2000. In 2003, they built a home in a Hainesport, N.J., community, which had a pool and tennis courts their growing families loved.
They didn’t think they needed a marriage license until Judith’s employer went bust and left her without health insurance in 2006. The couple sought and got the enthusiastic blessing of all six of their kids, and married in April at the Hainesport Town Hall. A reception for 120 followed that July at Medford’s Lakeside — a spot that reminded Judith of her parents’ lakefront home and had a playground for the grandkids.
There was a honeymoon in France, a trip to England, a New Year’s Eve spent with friends at an all-inclusive in Mexico. There were parties with friends and dinners with family and pumpkin-carving fests with the growing number of growing grandchildren.
After what was supposed to be a routine checkup in late 2007, Bob’s doctor told him he had lung cancer. It was tough, but they were hopeful. Bob had already beaten another cancer, thymoma, before he and Judith met. He had a rare eye disease and diabetes but looked healthy and had boundless energy.
“I never thought he was going to die,” Judith said. “I thought he would get through this, too.”
She stayed with him at the hospital. Her daughter came from Charlottesville, Va., to run their home like a hotel, cleaning and cooking for a constant stream of visiting family. They had a schedule arranged so Bob was never alone.
In March 2008, at age 67, he was gone.
Judith, who loves the sun, didn’t want to go outside. “I didn’t want to see a neighbor because I didn’t want them to feel sorry for or pity me — not when I had such unexpected joy for eight years,” she said.
Bob had been planning to take Judith to see Wicked on Broadway for her birthday. His son and daughter-in-law who live in White Plains took her instead — an annual tradition that endures.
Their children and grandchildren established the Annual Bob Levine Family Picnic, which also endures.
Judith, now 74, traded their home in Hainesport for a Collingswood condo to be closer to Philadelphia. She frequently had brunch with Bob’s granddaughters; one studying at Penn, the other, at Drexel, until COVID-19 cut in-person academics short this year.
In early April, when the CDC recommended everyone wear masks in public, Judith wondered where she could possibly find some. Then she had a powerful memory — a vision, she thinks — of Bob’s emergency kit.