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Leslie Levy (1922-1990)

As told by Glenda de Bruyn, Wendy Palmer,  Shelly Levy, and Derick Levy

Leslie Levy
Leslie and brother, Harold, qualifying together.

Our dad, Dr. Leslie Levy, was a small-town doctor dedicated to his patients. His roots in Williston, in the Little Karoo, shaped his simple outlook on life.

After graduating from the University of Cape Town in 1946, he worked in Natal and Stellenbosch. He met and married our mom, Hazel Loon in 1952 soon after she returned from Israel where she was part of the first group of physiotherapists to treat polio patients. They settled in Bellville, in a house on Barnard Street, where he set up his medical practice in the attached surgery. He later moved the practice to the J.S. Marais Clinic.

Dad's daily routine started with an early morning swim in our pool year-round. Then he would leave to do house calls before starting his day at the surgery. Sometimes he would come home for lunch, have a catnap, and then head out again for another house call or two before heading back to the surgery for his afternoon patients.

Before coming home for the night, he would do another round of house calls. His day was not over yet. After dinner, and an hour or two of relaxation, he would get up, head for the kitchen and prepare us a late night snack of Salticrax and cheese, tea or coffee saying, 'a housewife's work is never done.'

In the early days he had various partners which allowed him a break during the July holidays. We went on many a caravan adventure and on numerous trips around the country, our favourite being to the Kruger Park. With the 'Claremont Levys', and a friend or  two in tow, we had the best holidays. Even on vacation, he remained 'Dr. Levy'. Once, at a  rest stop in the Kruger Park, we came across a young boy who had just been bitten by a monkey. Out came his trusty medical bag that opened like a concertina, lucky for the poor kid who was disinfected and stitched up in no time.

Leslie Levy
Hazel and Leslie in the kitchen

During our high school years, he was the sole doctor in the practice. Those were tiring years for him and our mom, but there was always time to watch our sports games, play the odd round of golf, or tennis, and take weekend trips up the west coast to Donkergat, and later Langebaan. When we were at university Dr. Jacobs joined the practice and our   mom, no longer kid taxi driver, PTA member, and general keep-the family-on track manager, began working at the surgery and took on the job of transferring the medical records of the practice onto computer.

Doctor, husband, father, friend is how our dad would describe himself. He was an uncomplicated man with a great sense of humour and a huge heart, which made him an excellent family doctor who was loved and respected by his patients in all walks of Bellville life.

He loved every aspect of being a family doctor. He loved chatting and joking to his patients in fluent Afrikaans. His joy and excitement as he rushed out the door to 'catch a baby' at the Hansa Clinic was infectious. When he returned, we would ask him whether  it was a blue flag or a pink flag that would be hoisted in honour of the baby’s sex. He made the patients feel like they were part of the family, and we felt that way too. In fact, many   of his patients became our family friends. Our house was always filled with young people.

And did he have style! His natty mustache graduated into his famous handlebar chops which he sported till the end. His summer safari suit with long socks was his signature 'Doctor Look.' The shorts gave way to long trousers in winter, but he kept the safari top. After hours he would wear colourful shirts and ties or bow ties for festive occasions, but he was happiest in his speedo or shorts. Dr. Levy was, of course, our doctor too. We came   to him with all manner of ailments and he would say, 'Take these and go to school.'

Leslie Levy
Leslie combining work with play!

There was no getting away with anything for us. Glenda, our eldest sister, suffered from acute and chronic asthma from puberty.

Here is a description of his care of her: 'I owe him my life. I   doubt I would have survived had he not been my dad. At night I'd call out as these attacks   came on suddenly. He'd come running, armed with an injection and oxygen. He had the most amazingly gentle healing hands. I remember worrying about upsetting my siblings with all of this.'

She need not have worried. We would get up, check she was okay, and go back to bed knowing she was in good hands.

And so, on to patients' memories of our dad as their doctor taken from several hundred responses to a photo of our dad posted by Derick on the Bellville Memorabilia Facebook Group page:

C.V: It awoke vivid memories of kindness and competence in substantial and equal measure.

N.P: Vir my Ouma A. P. oorlede in 1976 was daar net een dokter en dit was Dr Levy. 

 S.B: Hy was ons huisdokter. Van Barnaardstraat tot Jan S. Marais praktyk, daar was net een dokter soos hy. Hy was baie akkuraat met sy diagnose en behandeling en moenie verwag om simpatie te kry nie.

R.M: Dr Levy was the one that told me: 'If you can't do anything about it, then don't worry about it.' Very wise man, we all loved him.

J. vd W: Our family doctor for many years.  He was very funny … he put me on the pill

... and I said my mom is going to have a heart attack ... and his answer was: 'Don't worry, I’ll treat her'… lol

H.M: He was a man with a big heart, always had time for his patients, no matter how   full his surgery was. I knew him from Barnard Street .. he did house calls and by the time he left you already felt much better.

L: Was appreciated and loved by all.  OMW in 1951 he delivered me and was our marvelous doctor until no longer in practice. What a legend!

C.C: I’ll never forget the words, 'this is going to hurt you more than it does me!'

P.C: I believe there is not a single person that does not have wonderful memories  of Dr. Leslie Levy.      

We think so too!!

Leslie Levy as told by Martin Loon, his assistant

The Levy offspring: Glenda, Derick, Shelley, Wendy
The Levy offspring: Glenda, Derick, Shelley, Wendy

I joined Leslie Levy's Bellville practice in April 1972.

Leslie’s wife Hazel and her brother Donny Loon were my first cousins. Their mother, Auntie Celia, and my mother, Bette Loon, were first cousins. Their father Dave and my father, Issie, were brothers - lots of family connections.

Leslie was typical of South African GPs at that time, dedicated and loved by his patients; always ready to go out on those house calls, no matter the time of day or  night.

I remember Leslie giving me a good tip: 'You've got to learn GP jargon ' - make the  patient feel special e.g. 'That's the worst case of flu that I’ve ever seen!!'

When I joined Leslie, he practiced out of part of his former house on Barnard Street. The rest of the house was occupied by Hazel's mom, Celia. Soon after, however, he opened a second surgery in the Jan S. Marais Hospital.

Initially, I remained at Barnard Street to take care of our patients who still preferred to go there.

As the newcomer, I wasn't very busy and spent happy times playing cards with  Auntie Celia.

Many house calls were for coughs and colds and other viral illnesses. Usually, the patients expected a prescription for an antibiotic whether or not indicated. I learned this the hard way, when returning to the surgery after one of these types of calls I found Leslie getting ready to go on a house call to the same patient that  I had just visited! They didn't need some young doctor to tell them to take aspirin  and keep hydrated.

In 1975, South Africa was going through a bad spell politically with threats to attack white homes. By this time, I was not really enjoying general practice and  had applied to go into anesthesia at Groote Schuur Hospital.

In the end I decided to make an even bigger change and we emigrated to the United States in June 1977 where I did an anesthesia residency in Cincinnati.

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