Preserving the Past & Enhancing the Future

About Us
In Memoriam
Sumner Levine
1931 - 2014


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The Jewish Historical Society of Memphis and the Mid-South mourns the loss of Sumner I. Levine, who died suddenly on June 27, 2014, in Athens, Greece, where he was vacationing with his wife of 59 years, Phyllis Ratner Levine. He was a board member and past president of the local Society, as well as a past president of the Southern Jewish Historical Society.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Sumner quickly became rooted in the South after moving to Memphis. As his grandson Jeff expressed in his tribute at Sumner’s funeral, he “loved Memphis, the Memphis Jewish community, and the soul and culture that the greater Memphis community represents.” He was a dedicated volunteer in both the Jewish and secular communities, always putting the needs of others before his own.

Sumner touched many lives and had a wide circle of friends. He displayed just as much enthusiasm when attending operas and symphony concerts as he did when attending University of Memphis basketball games. His greatest joy, however, was his family—two daughters, Jan Levine Reisman and Beth Levine Orlansky; five grandsons; and one great-grandson.

Sumner devoted countless hours to the Jewish Historical Society. To him, the past wasn’t just old names or places—Meridian, Tupelo, or Yazoo, Mississippi, where Phyllis was from. They were people, with their own lives and their own stories. He wanted to preserve for them what he saw in everyone—their humanity.

As Peggy Jalenak, a past president of the Society aptly put it: “Sumner was a very special person and friend, who contributed so much to the Historical Society and the community.  He was the ‘wind beneath the wings’ of the JHSMM.  We shall all mourn and miss him.”

JHSMM has set up a special fund in honor of Sumner Levine.  Click here for information about this fund.

Thoughts from others about Sumner Levine*:
From the time that I first attended a Southern Jewish Historical Society conference more than 25 years ago, Sumner made me feel welcome. More than that, he made me feel at home. Throughout the years, he continued to encourage me, as he did others -- persistently, yet in his wonderfully gentle way, to become more involved  in the society. As a past president, his belief in the importance of the society never wavered. A southern gentleman, who loved his family, and to me, seemed to know most of the Jews of Memphis(!), he was kind, bright, and witty. I will miss him. - Dr. Ellen Umansky. Prof, Fairfield Univ, Fairfield, Conn & SJHS Membership Chair & Pres Elect; 6/2014.
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