“Peace and powder snow” — Bill Levitt

by Alta Lodge
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William H. (Bill) Levitt

Feb. 18, 1917 – Dec. 29, 2009

William Haskell (Bill) Levitt, long-time mayor of Alta, Utah, and owner of the Alta Lodge, died on Dec. 29, 2009.

Mr. Levitt was a graduate of the University of North Carolina, holding B. A. and M. A. Degrees in Sociology and Human Geography. Over a long and varied career, before moving to Alta in 1956, Mr. Levitt served as Director of Housing Surveys for the State Planning Board of North Carolina; was a principal Agricultural Economist in the U. S. Department of Agriculture; served as International Education Director for the UAW/CIO; was a sergeant in the U. S. Army in World War II; was a film maker, producer/director for Film Documents; and studied at the Art Students’ League in New York City.

During his 34 years as mayor of Alta, Mr. Levitt, at various times, was President of the Utah League of Cities & Towns; Chairman of the Governor’s Council on Community Affairs; Chairman of the Wasatch Front Regional Council; President of the Salt Lake Council of Governments; member of the Governor’s Wilderness Committee; Municipal Representative on the State Air Quality Board; Chair of the Public Safety Committee of the Salt Lake Council of Governments. He served as President of the Utah Ski Association and was a retired member of the Intermountain Ski Instructors Association. He was also instrumental in the creation of Friends of Alta.

Mayor Levitt was honored as the Outstanding Elected Official by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, and received a similar honor from the Utah Society of Public Administrators. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Order of the Arrow, Utah Boy Scouts of America and was elected to the Utah Tourism Hall of Fame. In 2004, in recognition for his work in protecting the natural environment of the community of Alta and the surrounding canyon, he was named a Giraffe by the Giraffe Heroes Project. The Giraffe Project is an international nonprofit organization that honors those who “stick their neck out for the common good.”

Mr. Levitt was born on Feb. 18, 1917, in Brooklyn, N. Y., a son of Samuel Levitt and May Kane Levitt. He is survived by his wife, Mimi Muray Levitt, to whom he was married on Dec. 17, 1982; a sister-in-law, Katherine Levitt, Savannah, GA; three sons, John, San Francisco, CA; Bino, (Marty Jones), Haiku, HI; Toby (Heather), Salt Lake City; a daughter, Cassia (Marcus) Dippo, Salt Lake City; a daughter-in-law, Victoria Levitt, Potsdam, NY; seven grandchildren, Ethan Levitt (Meggan), Atlanta, GA; Elissa Levitt, Houston, TX; Sam and Wilson Dippo, Salt Lake City; Sara, Matthew, and Hanna Levitt, Salt Lake City; a great-granddaughter, Maggie Levitt, Atlanta, GA. He was predeceased by a son, James; a sister, Helen; and a brother, Robert.

A marriage to Elizabeth Ayscue ended in divorce. A marriage to Janice Loeb ended in divorce.

Bill Levitt was a humanitarian and cared about people as well as about Alta’s history and its future. He was unusually talented, energetic and charismatic, but more than that, he used his powers for the greater good. He was a liberal in the truest sense of the word. His priority was never his own enrichment; it was always community, nature, open spaces and people. Bill fought for what was important to him; his principles, Alta, its community, its people and its future. He was always looking to the future.

Bill never seemed to care what people thought of him, but he cared deeply about people themselves—whether they were “important” in the conventional sense or not. Bill had a great life and he was still in possession of his powers at the end—funny, intelligent, and full of idealism and spirit.

A private service will be held at the convenience of the family. A memorial service is also being planned for sometime later in the spring. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to Friends of Alta, P. O. Box 8126, Alta, UT 84092.

Comments can also be viewed and/or submitted on the Bill Levitt Memorial Blog at Bill-Levitt.blogspot.com/

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Sara December 31, 2009 - 3:22 pm

We miss you Grandpa! Keep it snowing for us. I'll see you in Alta.

Anonymous December 31, 2009 - 3:26 pm

Part of Alta left us on Tuesday, then returned as the "Mayors" storm. Alta will miss but not forget Bill Levitt. Rest in Peace.

Anonymous December 31, 2009 - 3:53 pm

We opened the paper yesterday to the sad news about Bill's passing. It was strangely fitting that he collapsed in one of his favorite spots, in the dining room of the Alta Lodge – we assume as consummate host and surrounded by the guests he cherished. Bill was an exceptional man and left a remarkable legacy.
I arrived at the Alta Lodge as a refugee from graduate school in 1990 to be a "tron" (waitress) for a season, joining some old college friends. I didn't actually know how to ski, a fact that few Altoids seemed to worry about. It was the perfect place to 'sink or swim'. The Levitts treated every one of their employees as family (as one big, sometimes messy and unruly family). It's been 10 years since we moved down to SLC, but we still feel part of the extended clan, and will miss him deeply.
Bill was indeed a liberal in the truest sense of the word – open-minded, welcoming, gracious, tolerant. He and Mimi made the rounds of the dining room nearly every evening, and considered each guest a special person who deserved a true break from their regular lives while they were on vacation in Alta. It was a very old-fashioned idea for such progressive, worldly couple, but then that was Bill. As one example, William Buckley Jr and Milton Friedman came to the lodge for an annual vacation for many years. They could not have been further apart ideologically from the Levitts, but Bill would never let petty politics get in the way of being a good host. He also clearly had a genuine fondness for them as people. They could come to the Lodge and be relatively anonymous, something many prominent guests seemed to relish. From Bill's perspective, however, all guests were "prominent people" in some way, and public fame didn't automatically earn differential treatment by the Lodge staff or the Levitts.
Bill was indeed also incredibly civic-minded and devoted his life to community welfare, including the protection of his beloved Wasatch. That did not come without some controversy, but Bill was always up for the fight and apparently didn't blink at the threat of lawsuits. I think the Town has about a perfect record on that score still.
Last night, we recalled many of Bill's famous New Year's Eve talks as we reminisced – the Sitzmark would be packed, Bill would always be on his game and have funny, touching and wise comments to usher in a new year.
We'll take a run or two for him today. We feel honored to have known him and are grateful to be forever a part of the extended Alta family. Condolences to all. Jen and Rich and Tony

Anonymous December 31, 2009 - 4:26 pm

I lived and worked at the AL for five years, which I just realized is nearly 1/10 of my life. As a handyman and then a tron, I remember his opening season talks, his new years remarks, and his belief in engaging in local politics. I remember his tales of driving up the canyon and counting the wildlife with his children. I truly believe that he is the reason Alta has maintained its unique character among Utah ski resorts. I am profoundly saddened by the Mayor's passing.

Mike Dodd

Anonymous January 3, 2010 - 3:40 am

Dear Bill,

We will miss you. We deeply appreciate the great work you and your associates have done to preserve and protect Alta and Little Cottonwood Canyon. You and Mimi and the entire Levitt family will forever be in our hearts and in the hearts of the thousands of Friends of Alta.

Caryl and Mike Stone – Burnsville, MN

Lori January 4, 2010 - 5:51 am

With great respect for a life well lived and an amazing legacy. I am very sorry for the loss of this wonderful man and I send my warmest condolences to his beloved Mimi and entire family. Lori Fitzgerald

Michael Sieg January 4, 2010 - 4:03 pm

To Bill's family, my thoughts and prayers are with you. I got to know Bill when I worked with the Forest Service in Utah from 1989-1998. What a fascinating and full life he lived! I always respected his passion for protecting the canyons and in particular the land in and around Alta. He certainly made a difference and his presence will be missed.

Michael Sieg
Fort Collins, Colorado

Anonymous January 4, 2010 - 9:54 pm

I admired and appreciated Bill Levitt for his example and his mentoring in my life. As a newly elected mayor, it was Bill Levitt who extended his hand and shared with me his vision for not only Alta, but Salt Lake County. He was a man of vision and integrity with the rare ability to pull together people and groups with opposing points of view. I extend my thoughts and prayers to his family. Mayor Tom Dolan

Anonymous January 4, 2010 - 9:56 pm

Bill Levitt was one of the finest public servants in Utah history. He was a man of integrity and a man who had the unique ability to cross party lines, and build coalitions for the common good of local government in Salt Lake County. You may have disagreed with some of his proposals; but you never questioned his heart and commitment to good public policy. He left a legacy and example of how elected officials should conduct the publics business. One of the blessings of my life was to have known this man and to have called him a friend. My thoughts and prayers are with the Levitt family and his "Alta family." John Hiskey

Alta Lodge January 5, 2010 - 4:54 pm

Additional comments are posted on the Bill Levitt memorial blog http://bill-levitt.blogspot.com/

John Schwab February 27, 2010 - 2:24 am

I occasionally look Alta up on the net to reminisce after working at the lodge for a summer back in the 70's. I was saddened to hear of Bill's death and extend my condolences to Mimi, Chris and the entire Levitt family.

Naomi August 23, 2010 - 7:32 pm

–A Remembrance of Bill Levitt–
As I sat on a couch in the lobby of the Alta Lodge last March, recovering from a shoulder feractuire, Bill sat down next to me and asked, “When was that hip fracture last time?” I answered that it might have been 1996 or 97—He had sat next to me then, keeping me diverted while we waited for my ambulance. Bill said, “Well, having an accident every 20 years or so isn’t too bad.” I still chuckle to myself thinking of that. Bill was such a special person in Jack’s and my life and I’m grateful for all the memories and great conversations over the years.
–Naomi Wain


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