Remembering Big Pi Fred Levin ’58 – University of Florida
Fred Levin, renown, outspoken Florida trial lawyer who battled the tobacco industry and fought racial injustice, passed into the Chapter Eternal on January 12, 2021.
Groundbreaking, Headline Grabbing Litigator
A graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, Levin built a reputation as a trial lawyer by winning negligence and wrongful death cases against large corporations, garnering national media attention. The National Law Journal named Fred the top civil litigator in Florida and one of the Top Ten Litigators nationwide in 1999.
He is perhaps best known for groundbreaking legislation that allowed the state of Florida to sue the tobacco industry for medical costs for treating smoking-related illnesses.
With wry wit, a sense of irony, and devilish swagger, Levin appeared on ABC’s “20/20” talking to reporter John Stossel. While being interviewed for the piece, Levin lit up a cigarette, which ABC highlighted in the segment. He was featured in a Time Magazine article entitled: “Are Lawyers Running America?,” and a subsequent two-page spread in George Magazine wearing a tux, drinking Crown Royal, and smoking a cigarette.
Champion for Equal Opportunity
In 1958, in the turmoil of de-segregation, Levin had the compassion and courage to befriend George Starke, the first African-American student to attend the University of Florida. Though Starke was harassed by fellow students and provided police protection, Levin approached George to become his study partner.
When the law school was renamed the Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1999, Starke attended in support of Levin.
Levin’s continued efforts to support the African-American community throughout his life was recognized in 1999 when he received a citation from the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus. He was also honored at the United Nations, named a Chief of the Republic of Ghana for his dedication to equal justice for people of all races.
Heavyweight Boxing Manager
A relative featherweight in the business of pugilism, Levin was entrusted to manage Roy Jones, Jr., a silver medal winner in the 1988 Olympics. He learned fast, negotiating a long-term, multi-million dollar contract with HBO. The pinnacle of his partnership with Jones was a heavyweight championship in 2003, where Jones defeated John Ruiz, and Fred was named Manager of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Levin was a very generous supporter of numerous community organizations with causes close to his heart including: higher education, child welfare, YMCA, technology, and cancer research. Fred also made significant financial contributions to the College of Law supporting student scholarships, faculty recruitment, and expansion.
Fred said, “I feel so sorry for people who are not as fortunate as me. I really do. If you look at my charitable giving, it’s always to those who are underprivileged.” He added with a chuckle, “except for the law school. That was for ego and as sort of a payback.”
Fred told a story of riding to college on the back of an open pickup truck with his closest friends from Pensacola, and was a self-proclaimed “party man.” According to his classmates, he made the most of his collegiate days. His brothers joked that, “It didn’t hurt that Fred’s dad owned a chain of liquor stores in Pensacola…”
His destiny of winning against-the-odds windfalls in the court room may have been shaped by Fred’s passion at the poker table. He regularly hosted notorious all night games. It’s rumored that one of his less card-savvy brothers lost a brand new Pontiac convertible in one of these games. But Fred played straight through for 72-hours to win it back for him.
Fred had an intense loyalty to his brothers, and never hesitated to stick his neck out, or offer a hand up for anyone in need of help. Throughout his life, he took on brothers as business partners, offered others opportunities in his law firm, and maintained meaningful lifelong friendships. When he lost one of his closest Pilam friends a few years ago, Fred Vigodsky, Fred took it upon himself to cook dinner every Tuesday night at his home for Vigodsky’s widow, Brenda, and a few other regulars.
Classmate Charles L. “Chuck” Ruffner, Esq. said, “Fred and I were pledge brothers [at the University of Florida]. We lived together in the fraternity house, and we shared a rental house off campus near the Gainesville Airport during our senior year. I always considered Fred a friend that I could call to chat with any time. He will be missed.”
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Article written by Shawn Mahoney (Temple University, ’92)