NEW BEDFORD, MASS. – Melvin H. Levine died March 19 at his residence surrounded by family. Born in New Bedford, a son of the late Israel Louis and Libby Rose (Epstein) Levine, Mel attended New Bedford public schools, Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Between college and law school, he served two years in the U.S. Army.
While in law school, Mel realized the legal life was not for him. After graduation in 1957, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service. France was his first overseas assignment and that’s where he met Katherine “Kitty” (Vann) Levine from Kerrville, Texas, who was also working at the U.S. embassy. She became his beloved wife of 54 years.
After marrying, they moved to Vietnam for his next diplomatic assignment. In perhaps the most dramatic moment of his career, he was inside the U.S. Embassy in Saigon in March 1965 when a Viet Cong soldier detonated a car bomb that killed 22 and injured 183, including Mel. He made a full recovery.
He also worked in Italy, Taiwan and South Korea, as well as at the State Department in Washington, D.C. In the early 1970s, he was part of Henry Kissinger’s staff at the National Security Council.
Mel retired from the Foreign Service after a 27-year career and returned to New Bedford, where he wrote three unpublished novels that drew on his diplomatic experience: “Dust on the Wind,” “The Darkening Plain” and “By Lost Ways.”
His public pursuits in retirement demonstrate the value he placed on education and lifelong learning. He served as a longtime trustee of Friends Academy in North Dartmouth and as a Library Associate at the Claire T. Carney Library at UMass Dartmouth. He was also the president of the local Harvard alumni association for many years.
Otherwise, he read. A lot. His children often teased him about his choice of reading material, asking, “What boring thing are you reading now, Dad?” It was usually a dense history or philosophy text; never a Tom Clancy novel.
Those who knew him well were impressed by his wisdom, his gentle humor and his good heart. And now that he’s not here, some light has gone out of the world.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his son Tyrrell Levine and wife Kiro; daughter Kara Leibel; son Brian Levine and wife Jane; sister Lillian Shwartz; and grandchildren Timmy Wang and Kayla Levine. He was the brother of the late Jacob “Jack” Levine.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Nativity Preparatory School, 66 Spring St., New Bedford, MA 02740 or Our Sisters’ School, 145 Brownell Ave., New Bedford, MA 02740.