Irene S. Levy, a pioneer in her own right who discovered and recognized Fort Greene as a unique and important part of the borough early on, died on Saturday at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene. She was 95.
The cause was pneumonia, her son Owen Levy, said.
Born Irene De Silva on May 29, 1917 in New Bedford, Mass., she was the second child of Portuguese immigrants. Levy spent her formative years in Bermuda before returning to the U.S. permanently in 1945.
She began a family with merchant seaman Owen Levy, moving from Harlem to Brooklyn in 1952, first to a top-floor rental on Washington Park and then to a single family home on Cumberland Street in 1954, where she remained until her death.
"The interracial Levy family arrived in Fort Greene in the era of White Flight when much of the white middle class was abandoning city neighborhoods as minorities began moving in," a biography for Levy detailed. "As succeeding generations of young professionals discovered the Fort Greene neighborhood and then moved on, many would often call Mrs. Levy a 'pioneer.' She never quite viewed her tenacity that way. She'd simply found a house she loved to make a home for her family. By being a conscience home-owner she led by example."
She was the oldest suriving resident of Cumberland Street.
Levy worked for the now defunct Whalen Drug Company for 35 years. She was a founding member of the powerful Drug and Hospital Workers Union Local 1199. Though she abandoned formal education by the time she was 12 years old, Levy helped to provide for her family and her hard work ensured their survival during the Great Depression.
At 62 years old, Levy retired from Whalen Drug Company in 1980 and enjoyed nearly 33 years of retirement. She traveled and volunteered, and often journeyed to Atlantic City.
Widowed in 1969, Levy is survived by three sons: Alan Silva of Paris, Owen Levy Jr. of Manhattan and Berlin, and Franklyn Levy of Brooklyn; six grandchildren: Ari, Gregory, Tiesha, Sara, Kim and Geronimo; four great-great grandchildren: Brian, Latiesse, Aaron and Alex; her siblings Dorothy and Frank; mothers of grandchildren Betty Johnson Silva and Linda Silva; and many friends, fellow parishioners and neighbords.
A celebration of her long and productive life will take place at 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 11 at the Sanctuary of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church at 85 South Oxford St. Among those remembering Levy is longtime friend Dr. Thelma Davidson Adair, moderator general assembly, Presbyterian Church USA.