Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 2071
Joseph L. Levis, Olympic fencer who loved to dance died in Brighton, May 20, 2005 at the age of 99.
His obituary appeared in the Boston Globe on Saturday, June 11, 2005.
Mr. Levis represented the United State in three Olympic Games and became a ballroom dancing champion in his 80s and 90s.
While Mr. Levis won many national fencing championships, his biggest accomplishment was winning the silver medal at the 1932 Olympics in men’s foil fencing. It is still, as of 2005, the highest record in men’s or women’s foil in Olympic history for a US fencer.
The son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Levis was born and grew up in the North End, where he worked part time in a butcher shop to help his family. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1922 and from MIT in 1926 with a degree in civil engineering.
Mr. Levis learned the basics of fencing from his father. When he arrived at MIT, he was chosen captain of the fencing team and won three intercollegiate championships. He was adept in the use of saber and epee in fencing, but favored the foil.
After graduating, Mr.Levis joined the Freeport Marble and Tile Co. of Dorchester, founded by his father in the mid-1920s. He retired in 1985 as its principal owner and CEO.
Between 1927 and 1936, Mr. Levis won eight national foil titles and one three-weapon title of the Amateur Fencers League of America, now the US Fencing Association.
In the 1930s, Mr. Levis sent to Havana to compete in an exhibit match against gold-medal Olympian Ramon Fonst. While in Cuba, he met Yvonne Rodriguez. They married in 1939 in New York, where Mr. Levis was living at the time.
In 1937 he retired from competition, and two years later he took a job as fencing coach at MIT. Construction work was down during the Depression, and he needed another paying job to supplement his income from the tile company. He stayed at MIT for 10 years.
Mr. Levis missed fencing competition and in 1949, he applied for reinstatement of his amateur status. It wasn’t granted until 1954. On his first attempt at competing again, after a 17 year retirement, he came back and won his eighth and last national foil championship.
After Mr. Levis gave up fencing, he began competing in golf and ballroom dancing. About 20 years ago, Mr. Levis and his wife started lessons at the Dan Radler and Suzanne Hamby Ballroom Dance Studios in Watertown and Southborough.
Mr. Levis only stopped dancing a year ago, after his wife’s death. He leaves son Robert L. Levis of Miami, son Christopher J. Levis of West Roxbury and two grandchildren. Burial was in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Hyde Park.
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