Levey helped transform the Department of Medicine

Gerald S. Levey

Gerald S. Levey, a transformative leader of the School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine, died June 25, 2021, at 84.

Alan Robinson, vice chair under Levey, recalls the state of the department when Levey took the leadership post in 1979: “When he came there, the department was in debt, it didn't have any organized plan. He started a unified practice plan” — before such things were common, Robinson said.

“He hired a number of new division chiefs and new faculty members and in three short years the department was in a positive situation financially. That was a huge contribution” to the entire school, Robinson said.

He and Levey were colleagues across four decades, at Pitt and later at UCLA, where Robinson is associate vice chancellor of medical sciences and associate dean of the School of Medicine. In both places, Levey displayed a “fantastic memory for names.” In Pitt division and department meetings, if a colleague asked a question, “he invariably knew their name. He knew all the residents and interacted with them. He knew them years after they had left the program.

“Jerry had a tremendous sense of humor,” Robinson added, recalling how, long after Levey’s 2010 retirement, the two of them still enjoyed reviewing the jokes Levey had collected as meeting ice breakers

Levey left Pitt in 1991 to take a job at Merck for three years, Robinson said, after then-UPMC head Thomas Detre advised Levey he didn’t yet have the requisite training to lead a large academic medical center. He moved to UCLA to do exactly that three years later and recruited Robinson to follow him.

“I knew him so long,” Robinson said, that, when asked to edit any piece praising Levey’s work, he knew to give most of the credit to Levey’s faculty, “because I knew that's what Jerry would want.”

Linda Marts, administrator for undergraduate medical education under Levey for his first decade here, recalled: “Those were the best years of my life. He changed the whole trajectory of the Department of Medicine. He really got the faculty more involved. He brought in new faculty who were known nationally.”

When Levey drove into work with colleagues, he would sometimes pass Marts at her bus stop in Shadyside and pick her up. “By the time we got to Scaife Hall, I had two or three projects I had to handle. And I had to keep it in my head until we got to work. I always found that delightful — although sometimes a little stressful if I forgot something.”

However, she added, “I always felt that he had my back. He was just a really good and kind man.”

Another Pitt colleague, emeritus Medicine faculty member Frank Kroboth, wrote in a remembrance: “To a brand-new faculty member, Jerry was the best. He was always positive, encouraging, with just the right amount of advice and feedback. … He took personal interest in developing my skill even though he presided over a large department. His boundless energy proved very effective in constructing a new department around a core of veterans. … Jerry was able to be a great leader and a most memorable friend.”

Famed for his fundraising, particularly at UCLA, he wrote a book on the subject, “A Gift for the Asking,” and another on leadership, which he titled after his favorite expression, “Never Be Afraid to Do the Right Thing.”

After graduating from Cornell, Levey earned his medical degree from Seton Hall and took subsequent training at the National Institutes of Health, Harvard and Massachusetts General. His wife Barbara, who died in 2019, joined him at Pitt in 1979 as associate dean and director of admissions.

He is survived by children John and Robin, a sister and three grandchildren.

Memorial gifts are suggested to the Parkinson’s Disease Research Fund at UCLA.

— Marty Levine