Love of country and school

June 10, 2021

By Maggie Barnard (MPP ‘21)

When Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky joined the Ford School faculty in 2006, it was a homecoming. After graduating from Michigan in 1960, Levitsky spent 35 years overseas as a U.S. diplomat, serving as ambassador to Bulgaria and later Brazil, among other senior posts. 

He carried his Michigan pride with him, Levitsky says, recalling a meeting in Russia with then President Gerald Ford (AB '35, HLLD '74) where they listened to the 1974 Michigan vs. Ohio State football game together over a speaker phone. Ford later sent Mel a framed picture of their meeting, engraved: To Mel Levitsky, who suffered our defeat to OSU

Along the way, Mel and his wife Joan raised three sons who also attended Michigan. “Joan had heard ‘Michigan football, Michigan basketball’ all her life,” says Levitsky, “so when we arrived on campus for my faculty appointment, she was entranced.” 

The Levitskys brought to Ann Arbor a shared dedication to public service, volunteerism, and supporting and guiding students. They quickly became integral members of the Ford School community.

Joan loved to host speakers and students at their home, and she rarely missed a Ford School event, from the annual Charity Auction and holiday skits to the Vandenberg lecture and other programming on international issues.

Mel’s mentoring and teaching changed the lives of students, many of whom now serve as diplomats or work on issues of U.S. security.

“Taking his security classes got me really interested in narcotics and other security issues,” says Paula Osborn (MPP ’15). Osborn now works as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, where Levitsky had served as Assistant Secretary of State. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mel,” she said.

“His door was always open,” says Trevis Herrold (MPP ‘17), a foreign service officer. Being able to discuss policy ideas and initiatives with someone who has been at the table, a leader in U.S. interests, is such a gift.” 

The connections Mel built over the years guided and spurred growth in the Ford School’s international policy programs. He encouraged the Ford School’s engagement in the State Department’s Diplomacy Lab, is a Senior Advisor at the Weiser Diplomacy Center (WDC), and created a partnership with the Academy of Diplomacy.

The Levitskys’ mentorship reached beyond students. Associate professor John Ciorciari, director of the WDC, recalls hosting one of his first talks at the Ford School as a “nervous new faculty member.” Mel and Joan “went out of their way to sit at the front, come forward at the end, and give their unending encouragement.”

“Mel has chosen to teach here for so many years because he cares about this country and the world. And he wants to train students to represent the best policies and what the U.S. can be,” says Ciorciari. 

Photos of a memorial bench in honor of Joan Levitsky

That patriotism was a shared value between Mel and Joan, who passed away in early 2020.

With a fitting, generous gift in her memory, Mel and his sons established the Joan Levitsky Internship Fund to support international learning. Joan has been commemorated with a bench just north of Weill Hall, engraved: ‘Wife, mother, grandmother, and patriot.’

“My sons and I took a long time choosing that last word,” says Mel. “‘Patriot’ was perfect because she did as much for the image of the U.S. when we were overseas as any working foreign service officer. She and I brought that patriotism to the Ford School.”

Below, find the full, formatted Spring 2021 edition of State & Hill.

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