Irving Levine: A Legacy That Will Live On
James Maimonis, Communications and Engagement Coordinator | May 18, 2018
REHOBOTH, MA- The old adage, “some things get better with age,” could not be truer for New England tennis legend and business mogul, Irving Levine. Levine, who passed away on May 5 at the age of 96, lived and breathed tennis, and he never stopped competing, even through his mid 90s.
Irving was born in Brooklyn, NY and spent most of his adult life in Rehoboth, MA and the Providence, RI area. He left behind his wife, Bernice, of 70 years, along with countless family and friends.
Irving’s life was filled with tennis. It was his greatest joy and what truly made him happy. It would take an entire book to sum up his contributions to the game in his 96 years, but here are some of the highlights:
Irving “Mr. Steady” Levine played tennis for more than 80 years and held more No. 1 rankings than any other player in New England history. ADVERTISEMENT Both his success and his nickname came from his motto in life, steadiness. Irving lived his life on and off the court by not gambling, not taking big risks and always doing what needed to be done carefully.
He applied that philosophy when he founded the Copley Mutual Fund in 1978. He saw so much success, that in 2016, he and the Copley Fund were recognized by the Wall Street Journal for outstanding performance of their near $83 million in assets. Irving was still making regular appearances to the office until about a month before he passed away.
So in 1996, he and his wife Bernice created the New England Senior Tennis Foundation (NESTF) to promote tennis among seniors in New England and to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing and thereby their quality of life. For 22 years and counting, the NESTF has been thriving and seeing increasingly strong participation, passion and communication amongst senior players throughout New England.
“Irving is to be credited for all that. He had a passion for wanting to compete, and that passion grew the older he got. That’s why he got people together to grow and fund senior tennis,” said Peter Allen, NESTF President and a good friend of Irving’s.
Irving continued to be the principal benefactor of the foundation throughout his later years and will continue funding New England senior tennis posthumously through a portion of his estate that he left for the NESTF.
In 2013, Irving was honored by the USTA with the Seniors’ Service Award. He received the award at the USTA’s annual meeting in Weston, FL. The Seniors’ Service Award is given annually to ‘the person who has been, through his/her efforts, willingness, cooperation and participation, most deserving of the respect and honor of all seniors, either in play or organizational work for the betterment and furtherance of senior activity.’
In 2017, Irving, along with his longtime friend and doubles partner Henry Tibero, were inducted as inaugural members of the Friendship Cup Hall of Fame. Both competed in the first cup in 1967 and continued playing in subsequent cups over the next 50 years. Allen had the privilege of presenting both of them.
“I was thrilled to be able to present Irving and Henry. I had been president of the NESTF since 2009 and I kept asking Irving when we were going to have elections to bring someone new on, but he told me he wanted me to stay president at least until he died,” Allen said. “To be able to express what he meant to me to a room full of people who support the Friendship Cup, which he basically established, was truly an amazing experience.”
Allen added, “Irving and Henry are both great role models for what we are able to do if we continue playing the game. That is what we should strive for.”
Henry Tiberio got to know Irving well through their singles rivalry. After numerous three-hour matches and mutual respect for each other’s games, it was only natural they became friends and stable doubles partners.
“Since we had so much respect for each other’s singles games, it made it very easy to play doubles,” the 95-year-old Tiberio said. “Irving had tremendous passion and a superb ability to focus, something most of us don’t have. As partners, we both cared so much about winning, it was always a given that we knew the other would be playing his hardest at all times. Because of that, there was never a reason to get mad or speak negatively about each other’s play.”
Irving also competed in a number of Atlantic Coast Cups, USTA League National Championships and saw his national ranking peak at No. 3, which he achieved in the 80s division. He was a regular competitor at the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, at which he earned multiple medals, including a gold in his 70s.
“We always joked and called him ‘Serving Irving’ because he had no serve. His game was to put the ball in play and get everything,” Allen said. “Steadiness was his strength, and that game was tough because he could get to balls and he wouldn’t miss, and it became especially valuable as he advanced through the age groups.”
For his outstanding lifetime contributions to New England tennis, Irving was bestowed the ultimate honor in 1998; he was enshrined into the USTA New England Hall of Fame. From that point on, Irving bought an entire table at the New England Hall of Fame Induction every year, which he reserved for NESTF Board Members who could make the trip.
Even while Irving was busy funding senior tennis and competing in matches of his own, he never forgot about the youth. Irving was a key contributor to the Youth Tennis Foundation (YTF) of New England for half a century. He served as both an honorary member and sustaining member. The goal of the YTF is to provide the opportunity for children of all backgrounds and abilities to learn, play and enjoy the sport of tennis.
Irving’s passion for the game may be summed up with this: When he and Bernice were looking for a new house 25 years ago, the only thing he cared about was if there would be enough land to build himself a tennis court. Then, when he elected to get a hip replacement in his 90s, he made sure to build a backboard so he wouldn’t miss a beat during his recovery.
No one cared for tennis like Irving did. His passion and dedication for the game were unparalleled, and his legacy will live on amongst the greats that ever played in New England.