It was only death in the end that finally managed to silence the voice and still the pen of Jack L. Levin, a Baltimorean who for 60 years vigorously fought against hateful prejudice while championing the cause of civil libertarianism.
Levin, 88, also a gifted advertising executive, died of renal failure last week at Sinai Hospital.
He cut his teeth organizing street protests against the 1936 visit of the light German cruiser Emden, carrying 600 Nazi naval trainees and flying the swastika when it docked at Recreation Pier in Fells Point.
Levin was a founder in 1930 of the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and later served as its president. His long work and support of the organization earned him the coveted Elizabeth Gilman Award, named for the driving force behind the ACLU's Maryland chapter. He had worked with Gilman and spent many evenings during the 1930s in her home in deep conversation with Roger Baldwin, who established the ACLU.
"He stood up and didn't play politics with people. He called it as he saw it," Mal Sherman, a Baltimore real estate consultant, activist and longtime friend, recalled last week.
A strong and willful man, when he moved in 1990 to North Oaks retirement community in Pikesville from his longtime home in the Cheswolde section of Baltimore, he continued to operate from a small room at the advertising agency he had been a partner in for more than 60 years.
As he had for years, he continued writing in a prolific stream his eloquent and provocative opinion pieces that were published in The Sun and The Evening Sun.
"I don't mean to imply that these articles carry any great power with them, they do not, they are really my means of expressing what I feel. As a result of it, yes, there are frequent consequences," he told the Jewish Historical Society in a 1984 interview.
When asked if he ever received any hate mail for his articles and views, he replied with a laugh, "Oh, sure. When I answer the phone I frequently say this. They ask me are you the one who had this piece in the paper today and I say, `No, I am the plumber.' There is a Jack Levin who is a plumber."
Asked if he considered himself in any way influential, he replied, "I don't know how influential, but I do take advantage of opportunities to try to persuade people, which seems to be my general motivation."
Despite failing eyesight and eventual blindness that troubled him the last eight years of his life, Levin continued to forge ahead, refusing to retreat from the very issues that seemed to define his life.
Readers came to his home to keep him abreast of current events, reading newspapers and books. He listened to the radio.
"He was still writing at the end of his life. People came to read and that helped keep things going for him. He would not quit. He would not let go. He was a fighter to the end," said Alan Shecter, a nephew who lives in Pikesville.
In his last piece for The Sun, published Dec. 11, 1998, Levin praised the efforts of Baltimore's Jewish community, which had raised that year for charitable organizations nearly $25 million with the average contribution being $1,700 per contributor.
"That's a long way from the pushke, the small tin can that was found in the kitchen of Jewish homes early in this century. The pushke played an important role in my childhood. When my grandmother visited and gave me the generous gift of a nickel, I was in the habit of squandering it on five Tootsie Rolls," he wrote.
His parents' persuasion to give up a penny of the gift for the relief of the "needy beneficiaries in American ghettoes and European shtetls," he wrote, evolved into a lifetime of giving.
"That was the introduction of many Jewish children to the tradition of generosity, known in Hebrew as tzedakah. Many Jews feel that it's important to obey the commandment to help the needy" and to be motivated by the prophet Jeremiah to "Care for the city in which you live for in its welfare is your own," he wrote.
Maryland's quest for a football team prompted him to write in another op-ed piece, "The governor goes out and courts still another big-money man to buy an NFL football team. Hysterical calls flood the sports talk shows. The newspaper runs an article speculating that Baltimore will suffer a nervous breakdown if it doesn't get the ball.
"Meanwhile, the Maryland Conference of Social Concern has a list that should arouse similar anxiety and attract comparable capital from patriots seeking to improve Baltimore's quality of life and boost its economy. Unfortunately, this list is greeted with yawns instead of yells. ... Bread or circuses? What are our values? On which ball should we keep our eye?"
A visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington moved him deeply.
"As an American Jew who lost no immediate relatives in the Holocaust, but who tried - without much success - to offer haven and compassion to its victims I experienced a particularly painful recollection during my recent visit to the Holocaust Museum," he wrote in another piece.