“Champion of the Underdog”, a Tribute to Fred Levin
Fredric “Fred” G. Levin, the powerhouse attorney who successfully took on the tobacco industry in the 1990’s, passed away in January due to complications from COVID-19. Mr. Levin was one of the Founders of the Pensacola law firm Levin, Papantonio & Rafferty. He leaves behind an enormous legacy. During a recent interview by our own Trusted Legal Partner founding member, Patsy Miller, SVP, Business Development at CASE Legal Media, the senior partners of the law firm, Mike Papantonio and Troy Rafferty, spoke enthusiastically about Fred. They vividly described Fred and gave Patsy insight into the man he was and the legacy he left behind.
Fred always said you have to have a vision and if you can’t look 25 years down the road then you are never going to build anything successful. If you can’t see it, you can’t build it. Fred was always able to see it.
He built a firm that is 67 years old now with Rueben Askew, former Governor of Florida. From the very beginning Fred had a vision of what he wanted. Being in Pensacola, Florida, he knew he had to make the firm unusual and aberrational to attract lawyers who were not “office lawyers”, but rather lawyers that had a record of trial skills. He wanted to build a firm that could go to trial with any complex litigation and do well.
Troy and Mike went on to explain that early in his career, Fred Levin handled the biggest railroad case in America…with the largest railroad verdict in the country, at the time. That case, decades ago, put the firm on the map and earned the firm both national and international attention.
Fred was at work 7 days a week. He even joked that he did not have hobbies, didn’t fish, didn’t play golf. There was not a day that he was in town and was not in the office. Fred built a culture within the firm: when we want a result, we have to outwork them…outwork Big Tobacco, for example. When we are taking on the biggest chemical manufacturers in the world, we must work harder than them. When they destroy an entire eco system, we have to outwork them.
Additionally, Fred encouraged everyone at the firm to build something new all the time. He instilled into every lawyer at his firm a need to innovate…and innovate all the time. He gave Mike and Troy and the attorneys at the firm the “go ahead” to build an Asbestos department and a Mass Torts department when most people didn’t even know what that was. He made everyone see the vision and instilled the belief that “you’ll die of boredom if you don’t do or try something new”. No one in America had ever won a case against Tobacco. Not one victory in America. Fred decided “we are going to go do this”…and they won! It was always great to hear him say “if you are a trial lawyer, you can try anything”.
The legacy that Fred left is SUPERB. He created that mindset in all of our people. He created that culture at the firm that If you aren’t leaving a legacy, why are you doing this? He would hate it when someone would say “you can’t use that” or “you can’t do that”. He wanted people to think outside the box. Figure it out. Make it happen. Avoid getting comfortable.
Troy and Mike also shared some surprising stories about Fred Levin. Fred loved to do the unusual. He had never boxed, but he loved boxing. He was the boxing manager of Roy Jones, Jr., known as one of the all-time best boxers in America, pound for pound. Just like in the movie, The Devil’s Advocate, Fred loved to jump up into the ring and parade around as if he had won the fight himself. He was so attached to the excitement and the risk of boxing. He was even named Boxing Manager of the Year and was crowned “King of Ghana,” at the United Nations. They dressed him in a Ghana tribal clothing. It was surreal. All the tribes had come in from Ghana to celebrate him because of what he had done for Ghana boxers…helping make their careers.
Shockingly, Fred was even accused of murder…not once, but twice. One story included the sheriff of Pensacola who claimed that Fred had murdered someone. Not true of course! Troy and Mike laughed so hard at the murder stories they couldn’t even remember the details of the far-fetched accusations.
What really stands out about Fred is that he had an extraordinary willingness to give. He gave money to his entire community and communities all over the country. When it came to people in need, Fred would give. He was a truly selfless and amazing man.
Levin believed in “Give it while you’re living”. His charitable donations have now topped more than $35 million. A short list follows (more about Levin’s community service and charitable work is on the website (https://www.levinlaw.com/community-service)
- $2M endowment to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
- $2M to Brigham and Women’s Hospital-2nd largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.
- $5M donation to an organization that helps soldiers injured in Iraq requiring removable prosthetics.
- $1M donation to Florida’s Institute for Human & Machine Cognition.
- $550,000 donation to University of West Florida to establish the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies.
- $8M valued gift of his Timeless Tanglewood home, estate, and contents to house the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies.
- YMCA of Northwest Florida
- Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen
- Escambia Westgate Center
Hearing Mike and Troy talk about all that Fred had instilled in them and all that he had done for others was moving and inspirational. Fred, you will be missed deeply. Our condolences to your loved ones and all the lives you have touched. We will always be grateful that you set the bar high, and that your legacy will continue to fund education, research, and help countless people in the fight for the underdog.
The featured image used for this article is a portrait done by our own Trusted Legal Partner, Trevor Goring.