Robert Levy dies at 87; businessman and philanthropist made his mark in horse racing
Long a figure on the Philadelphia sports scene, Mr. Levy founded the Little Quakers and was an avid Penn sports fan.
Robert Paley Levy, a man with eclectic interests from philanthropy and horse racing to business, and a man with a love for his family, friends, and the University of Pennsylvania, died Wednesday.
Mr. Levy, 87, was the past chairman of DRT Industries, a Philadelphia-based conglomerate; president of the Atlantic City Racing Course; chairman emeritus of the Philadelphia Sports Congress; president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association from 1989-91; a member of the Fairmont Park Commission and the Philadelphia Art Commission; founding director of the Little Quakers football organization; trustee emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania; overseer of the William Penn Charter School; and a member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness under Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Levy was born March 30, 1931, in Philadelphia, to Blanche Paley Levy and Dr. Leon Levy. He was a graduate of the William Penn Charter School and graduated from Penn in 1952 with a sociology degree. During the Korean War, he served in the Army Reserve Medical Corps.
Just about anybody involved in Philadelphia sports at any level knew Mr. Levy. And it seemed that everyone in horse racing around the country knew him.
In 1953, Mr. Levy founded and coached the Little Quakers, an age-specific, all-star football team for boys in the Philadelphia region. The team continues to this day and counts Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan among its hundreds of famous former players. In 2003, Levy and the Little Quakers won the Wanamaker Award for lifetime achievement.
Mr. Levy and his family once owned part of the Phillies, but it was the Penn Quakers teams in every sport that held his lifelong allegiance. If there was a Penn game at the Palestra or Franklin Field or a tennis match at the Robert P. Levy Tennis Pavilion or a Penn event anywhere else, Mr. Levy would be there in person or in spirit.
"I'm really grateful we had the chance to travel with my parents and my kids," Mr. Levy's daughter Kathryn "Kit" Feldman said. "We went to Italy when the Penn basketball team played there. My kids were little, and it was just the most fun trip."
Her father took her to visit colleges while following the Penn basketball team.
"We rode on the bus with the basketball team, and I saw the inside of every Ivy League gym,'' Feldman said. "When we would go on tours and the tour guide would point out [the school's attributes], he would say very loudly and obnoxiously, 'Well, Penn has that, and it's better.' Finally, I told him he wasn't allowed to go on any more tours.''
In the 1940s, Mr. Levy and his parents became involved in horse racing. Mr. Levy's best horses were 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice and two-time Sprint champion Housebuster. When he had a good horse, he insisted on bringing in so many friends as partners that it was impossible to keep count.
Mr. Levy's son Mike said his father's proudest moment in the game came in 2013 when Housebuster was inducted into the hall of fame at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
"He thought that was something that was not attainable," Mike Levy said. "It was probably his biggest honor in racing."
No one understood the good and bad in horse racing better than Mr. Levy.
"You know what he was? He was a great loser in a game where you lose a lot,'' Mike Levy said.
Mr. Levy loved dogs as much as he loved horses. The difference was that dogs could share his home, where there would often be as many as 11, typically pugs, collies, and Shar-Peis.
"Growing up, he was the kind of father who would come home from a business trip with a dog,'' Feldman said. "Other kids got snow globes; we got dogs. We bought a dog in Florida when we were all on vacation, because the pet store was on the other side of the street when we were going someplace, and he said, 'Oh, look, there's a pet store, and we'll get it on the way back.' ''
So they did. That puppy, Snoopy, became Kit's dog.
Levy is survived by his wife of 63 years, Rochelle "Cissie"; their five children, Kathryn Levy Feldman, Wendy Levy Kalmus, Robert Levy Jr., Angela Levy Beck, and Michael T. Levy; and 13 grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 12:30 p.m., Sunday, at Joseph Levine & Sons Memorial Chapel, 4737 Street Road, Trevose.