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Paul Levine, a retired globe-trotting paper executive who saw his oldest daughter elected the first female mayor of Miami-Dade County, died Thursday from complications related to COVID-19, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. He was 87 and fully vaccinated.
“It just goes to show this new variant is so pernicious when you’re vulnerable,” said Levine Cava, who also contracted COVID in the fall of 2020. “We are just one more family affected by COVID.”
A widower after a 44-year marriage, Levine was a frequent companion to Levine Cava during official stops at Marlins Park, the Deering Estate and other county outings during her first year as mayor. He moved to the Miami area two years ago after the death of his wife, adopting a new home as his daughter began a countywide run.
“She enjoyed having her dad on the campaign trail,” said Christian Ulvert, Levine Cava’s top campaign consultant since she won a county commission seat in 2014. “He enjoyed being with people. It was nice.”
A Harvard graduate who earned a masters from the Tufts school for global affairs, the father of five traveled the world for his work as an executive for paper producers, overseeing the construction and management of mills in Latin America and beyond. He worked for S & S Corrugated Paper Machinery Company, the Black-Clawson Company, and Continental Forest Industries.
His travels earned him membership in the Explorers Club, and sometimes meant bringing his young family along, too, resulting in his oldest daughter, the future mayor, living briefly in Brazil, Chile and Canada.
“He was traveling six months out of the year,” Levine Cava said. “He wanted to share it with us.”
Levine was living in the Palace senior-living complex in Kendall, where Levine Cava said he was assisted by staff who were both vaccinated and masked. Levine Cava said her father appears to have contracted the virus from an asymptomatic healthcare worker who unknowingly had COVID as well, spreading it to an elderly man who mostly refused to cover his face.
“My father was not very compliant with the masking...He was a very stubborn man,” Levine Cava said. “The people around him were always wearing masks.”
He became ill more than a week ago, and was admitted to the main Baptist hospital campus. The family didn’t suspect COVID, Levine Cava said, but the diagnosis thrust the mayor and her siblings and relatives into the difficult position of watching a family member fade from a distance.
“We saw him through the glass door of his room,” she said. “We were not allowed to go in.”
Her father died at Baptist on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. It happened to be the day after the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a resolution by Commissioner René Garcia, a former state senator, instructing Levine Cava to develop a new policy with hospitals allowing family visitation of critically ill COVID patients.
Levine Cava said Friday her father did not seem aware of his surroundings during his time in Baptist’s COVID ward, and that staff was so pressed to tend to the critically ill that she’s not sure what changes could be made to accommodate families.
“Everybody we talked to was very kind. But they were busy... The COVID ICU is not a place for visitors,” she said. “I do have great sympathy for the position Senator Garcia is taking.”
Levine had dementia, but was otherwise in good health before contracting COVID, Levine Cava said. She would often bring him to ceremonial events in her position as the county’s top elected leader, including Opening Day in April, where the life-long New York fan watched the Marlins take on Tampa Bay.
“Some of the most special moments in my job are when I can bring my dad along and share this extraordinary journey with him,” Levine Cava posted on Twitter that day in a photo with her masked father inside the park.
Born April 15, 1934, Levine grew up in Brooklyn the son of a teacher and a school secretary who worked a summer camp so their two sons could attend for free.
After corporate jobs in the 1960s and a brief assignment helping the government of Israel attract companies, Levine took a post in New York City’s economic-development agency under Mayor John Lindsay. A 1973 New York Times article described Levine as a “Brooklynophile,” and he was a devoted Dodgers fan until the team left for California. He switched to the Mets, rooting for them into old age, a daughter, Simone Levine said.
His hobbies included chess and hiking, which involved vigorous treks uphill for miles. “Whenever anyone would complain, he would say, ‘Oh didn’t you know: There’s an ice cream store at the top of the mountain?” Simone recalled.
Levine and his first wife, Lois Levine, separated when Levine Cava, 65, was in high school. Along with Daniella, he and Lois had a daughter, Julie, and a son, Carl. He had two children with his second wife, Noelle Tenedou-Levine, who died in 2018. They had met on a hike, shared a birthday, and married in 1974. Along with daughter Simone, they had a son, Alex. Levine has seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. His brother, Robert A. Levine, died in 2010.
When he moved to the Miami area in 2019, Levine briefly lived with Levine Cava and her husband, Dr. Robert Cava, in their Palmetto Bay home before moving to the Palace. At the time, Levine Cava was running to be the county’s first female mayor, in a non-partisan race where the Democrat was called a radical big-spender by her opponents.
She said her father would get upset when he spotted an attack mailer against his daughter, but was encouraged by his visits with the campaign squad.
“He would say: ‘Our position is good. The people are excited,” she said. “He was really part of the team.”