Carl Levin
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

Few people have had the impact that Sen. Carl Levin had upon America.

This will be the second week in-a-row that I write about a legend. Sen. Carl Levin passed away on July 29 at the age of 87.  

Few people have had the impact that Levin had upon America. Shortly after his death, there were numerous articles in national media that related his many accomplishments and, more important, told of his personal integrity and his love for Detroit and Michigan. The longest serving senator in Michigan was also one of the hardest working senators with admirable intellectual skills. 

Carl Levin

From his election to the Detroit City Council and retirement as a U.S. senator, Levin’s career can be followed in the pages of the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Enter “Carl Levin” into the search box and you will see that he is cited on nearly 1,500 pages in the Archive. Those pages demonstrate Levin’s contributions to the well-being of our nation and state while in Washington, D.C. They also show he was often “on-the-ground” in Michigan, whether speaking at a synagogue or traveling to the Upper Peninsula to meet with constituents. He continued to make presentations and attend community events until shortly before his death, all while he was waging a four-year battle with cancer.

I cannot do justice to his accomplished career in this brief column. I relate two personal stories, instead.

Carl Levin

My first meeting with Sen. Levin was in 2009, when I was director of the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University. I was nominated for Archivist of the United States that year. I was honored to be nominated, but this meant that I needed support in Washington. Eugene Driker made the contact with Levin for me (for which I am still grateful). Soon, I had an appointment to meet the senator. I’ll admit, I was nervous. I was meeting a legend. Would he support me?

Levin warmly received me like I was a V.I.P. But he treated everyone like that. I was impressed with how intently he listened. One of the best moments of my career came when I knew he would support me. His eyes sparkled and he simply said, “Okay. Let’s get to work.” In the end, I was not selected for the position, but the fact that Carl Levin actively supported me was a great reward and a great honor.

Carl Levin

Our paths crossed again a few years later, after he retired from public service. Levin placed his archives, more than 1,200 boxes of papers and numerous digital files, with the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. Although I spoke with Carl several times by phone as he periodically sent records to the Bentley, I spent one Saturday with both him and his daughter, Kate, reviewing his archive. It was a most engaging day.

“I’m still a lawyer at heart,” Levin said, as he proceeded to grill me about every detail regarding the future of his archive at the Bentley. It gave me a taste of how Levin handled his duties as a senator. He would leave no question unanswered.

Carl Levin

Carl Levin was a mensch of the highest order. I am particularly grateful to have known him. He will be greatly missed, especially by me. 

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