Beatrice L. Levi, activist and Arts Seminar leader

Beatrice Looban "Beatty" Levi, an activist with the League of Women Voters who also led an art education group, died of congestive heart failure April 12 at her Pikesville home. She was 97.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Linden Avenue, she was the daughter of Abraham Looban, who owned the Merchants Bag and Cover Co. and traded in burlap and jute, and his wife, Rena Jaffe.

She attended the Robert E. Lee School and was a 1936 graduate of Western High School, where she was class treasurer and was active in the math and acting clubs, the debate team and the student league. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree at Goucher College.

"My mother was an activist, innovator and a visionary," said her daughter, Margaret Levi of Seattle. "She crossed the religious, generational and racial divides of Baltimore to bring people together to create opportunities and change."

In the 1950s she joined the Baltimore and Maryland chapters of the League of Women Voters and became an observer of city rent court. In a 1969 article in The Baltimore Sun, she said: "Why has the court, whose purpose was to serve the little man, failed to serve the poor and is now the landlord's lackey?"

She joined with members of the Baltimore Urban League in 1966 to win greater African-American representation on the City Council. In 1970, she pushed for an investigation into voting irregularities in a primary.

She also became active in what became the Art Seminar Group, which her sister, Shirley Hecht, helped to found.

"My mother was a force and the energy in the group for making it a full-blown organization," said another daughter, Alice Levi Duncan of New York City. "She felt Baltimore had incredible resources that should be tapped. She saw a big picture. She was a networker, too."

Her daughter also said, "She cattle-prodded people into being better informed, better read and energized. Everybody benefited from her enthusiasm."

In a 1973 article in The Sun, Mrs. Levi credited the paper's art critic, Kenneth B. Sawyer, with initial educational work with her group.

"I asked whether, if I could get together a group of people, he could come and speak to us about art," she said. The critic agreed and her group began to enlarge.

"My mother brought additional leadership to the group," said Margaret Levi. "She was instrumental in its evolution from a small gathering of friends in the Jewish community to a citywide organization that drew expertise from universities and curators worldwide."

She organized numerous lectures and trips.

"Beatty made sure the group was conscientious and serious, the way she wanted it," said Jay M. Fisher, chief curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art. "She insisted that her participants be well-read. For her, these trips were not casual outings. They were sophisticated. I could never keep up the reading lists she had prepared."

Mr. Fisher recalled leading an Art Seminar trip throughout France and visits to Nice and Antibes.

"She made these trips an enjoyable assignment, and we delighted in getting in offbeat places, such as a garage where Matisse painted the oversized murals now at the Barnes Foundation," he said. "She liked the unusual and had a great sense of exploration and curiosity."

A 1977 article in The Sun recounted how Mrs. Levi received "red carpet treatment" as she led the group on tours of "ancient Roman cities of southern France to an insider's view of Paris's top collections."

She kept to a tight schedule, the article said, and when five of the 55 tour members failed to show up for the bus at Chartres Cathedral, the vehicle left without them for the return trip back to Paris. The story said they rejoined the group after finding their own transportation.

On that visit, the American ambassador to France received Mrs. Levi and the group, as did Pierre Quoniam, director of the Louvre.

From 1971 to 1995, she co-founded and ran a business, Tips on Trips and Camps. She made recommendations to parents about summer camps for their children. She also screened the camps and followed up to see how the children felt about their experience.

In 2002, she received an honorary doctorate in humanities from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Mrs. Levi was also a supporter of the Creative Alliance, which in 2011 honored her with an award for lifetime achievement.

Services are private.

In addition to her daughters, survivors include two grandchildren and two great-grandsons. Her husband of 54 years, Joseph Levi, an executive of a Rhode Island costume jewelery manufacturing firm, died in 1995.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad