Lorna Levi

forLorna1Last week we learned the sad news that Lorna Levi passed away, less that two weeks after the death of her partner of 65 years, Herb Levi. She was 86.

After Herb passed away, I began to write a letter to Lorna. It wasn’t yet finished when I heard of her death. This is how I had begun it:

To you and Frances I send my condolences for the loss of Herb. I have so many memories of Herb, and many of them are also memories of you. Although I didn’t observe your relationship often, it was clear that your lives were deeply intertwined. It was hard to think of Herb without thinking of you, especially when I visited Pepperell, or when I thought of Herb working at his home laboratory from Wednesdays through Sundays. I imagine the little tortoise walking around between his feet. The two of you, your house, the land and animals and food that you nurtured, gave to me a way to think about how to build a life and a better world.

That last sentence is very much how I thought of Lorna. Understated, with bright eyes holding a mischievous wit, full of the colours and textures of nature. She built not by cutting and imposing our straight lines, but by nurturing — plants, fabrics, and the pot of rich food on her stove. Oh, the multifarious Thanksgiving meals she put on for the “orphaned” graduate students in Herb’s lab!

She was a partner in the background of much of Herb’s contributions as a spider taxonomist, supporting him in more than one way. There’s a story — I hope I have this right — of her helping Herb to get over the fence at some foreign museum unexpectedly closed, so that he could get in and look at important specimens. That is the image I am left with, Lorna being a tiny bit subversive and doing what needed to be done.

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