Longtime Fort Greene resident Irene S. Levy of Cumberland Street drew last breath at Brooklyn Hospital Center last Saturday, January 5th at 1 PM. She was 95 years old. Death was due to pneumonia-related complications. She moved her family to Fort Greene in 1952, becoming a homeowner in 1954 with late husband Owen Levy, Sr.
Born Irene De Silva on May 29, 1917 in New Bedford MA, second child of Portuguese immigrant parents. She spent her formative years on the British isle of Bermuda where the family eventually settled. She returned to the US to live permanently in 1945. Starting a family with merchant seaman Owen Levy, they moved from Harlem to Brooklyn in 1952, first to a top-floor rental on Washington Park, then the single-family home on Cumberland St. where she has resided since 1954.
Mrs. Levy was employed in various capacities for nearly 35 years by the now-defunct Whalen Drug Company. She is founding member of the powerful Drug and Hospital Workers Union Local 1199. Forced to abandon formal education at age 12, she did domestic work to help her family survive The Great Depression. Widowed in 1969, she retired from Whalen’s in 1980 at age 62 and enjoyed nearly 33 years of retirement, pursuing interests in travel and volunteer work. In later years, Atlantic City was a frequent port of call.
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. Exacerbated by unscrupulous landlords and real estate speculators, these communities went through decades of up-and-down cycles of prosperity and despair.
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 homeowner, she led by example.
She 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; and four great-grands: Brian, LaTeish, Aaron and Alex; surviving siblings Dorothy and Frank; mothers of grandchildren Betty Johnson Silva and Linda Silva, many friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors.
Irene’s friendly outgoing nature and generosity of spirit made her popular with all that came her way. The last oldest surviving resident of Cumberland Street will be deeply missed. (Arrangements: Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home)