(JTA) — Louise Levy, who was the oldest living resident of New York state and a participant in a genetic study of long-lived Ashkenazi Jews, died July 17 in Greenwich, Connecticut. She was 112.
“Throughout her long life, which spanned two global pandemics, she remained a lady in every sense of the word,” her family wrote in an obituary. “She will always be remembered for her grace, positivity and kindness.”
Levy, who during her working life served as an office manager in a housekeeping business run by her husband Seymour, was one of hundreds of Jews 95 and older who were recruited in 1998 for a study by the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the Bronx. The cohort was chosen because its members, including some Holocaust survivors, are a homogeneous group.
The Longevity Genes Project aims to explore the “good” genes that enable people to live well into the triple digits. “I hope that in our lifetime we will be able to use medicine to prevent age-related diseases and improve our quality of life,” Israeli-born director Nir Barzilai said in a statement on the project’s website. “I think it’s our obligation as scientists to do that.”
Its findings so far include mutations in cholesterol genes and a growth hormone gene associated with longevity, and evidence that longevity is likely to be inherited. Despite their age, many in the study cohort smoked more, exercised less and weighed more than people who had died much younger. (Levy smoked cigarettes until 1965, the year she turned 55.)
Levy once told an interviewer that her own family history did not seem to ensure a long life. “My mother was never really a healthy woman,” she shared New York Daily News (although she lived well into the 20th century). Her father died of cancer and her only brother, Ralph, died of tuberculosis in 1933 at the age of 34.
Levy often attributed her longevity to a daily glass of red wine and a low-cholesterol diet, and she said she never eats sweets. “I have orange juice, toast and coffee for breakfast, which I have had all my life. I eat the same thing for lunch every single day, which is yogurt,” Levy told WCBS 880 in 2019. “I feel like I started eating yogurt when I heard that’s why Russians live for a so mature age because they eat a lot of the yogurt. So I have that for lunch every single day with a piece of fruit and biscuits.
Her family, meanwhile, felt that her “uncanny ability to take life as it came—with the greatest of composure—must have played a role. Once asked to reflect on the values she valued most, she called honesty, loyalty and to be helpful to others.”
Louise was born in 1910
Louise Morris Wilk was born on November 1, 1910. Her parents, Louis Wilk and Mollie Morris, were German Jews who immigrated to Pennsylvania shortly after the American Civil War. Louise grew up in Cleveland, where her father worked as a photographer and cinema manager. The family moved to Manhattan, where Louis Will illustrated movie posters.
Louise graduated from Wadleigh High School in Harlem before attending Hunter College, although she did not receive her degree.
She and Seymour Levy were married on April 28, 1939, and had two children: a son, Ralph, and a daughter, Lynn. Both are in their 70s.
In the early 1950s, Louise and Seymour left the Upper West Side and moved to the Westchester County suburb of Larchmont. Louise worked with her husband at I. Levy Sons until his death in 1991 and continued to work into the 90s for the man who took over the business.
In what her family calls her “third act,” Levy moved into Osborn, a senior living community in Rye, New York. There, they write, “she became one of the most popular residents and a sort of minor celebrity—famous for her indomitable spirit, sense of humor and, increasingly, her longevity.”
There are 23 verified “supercentenarians” (110 years or older), including one in Japan born on the exact same day as Levy.
Levy is survived by his two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.