Pam Levinson, S.F. graphics designer, dies at age 52

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Pam Levinson died Feb. 12 at her San Francisco home. She was 52.

Many in the Jewish community knew Levinson as the owner of Levinson and Associates, an advertising and design firm that created logos and graphics for many local Jewish agencies.

Some 150 to 200 people attended a memorial service held Sunday at Sinai Memorial Chapel, including many Bay Area Jewish community leaders.

To her husband, Levinson always remained as she appeared that first night: an image of perfection.

It was 1969, soon after he arrived in California. He told a cousin he had two desires: to see the musical "Hair" and to meet "one of those hippy Berkeley girls." That was how he came to be fixed up with the San Jose-bred designer.

He soon found out, however, that she was as comfortable with the rich and famous whom she photographed for publicity projects as with Berkeley types.

"She fit in everywhere," he says. "She was a master swimmer, an award-winning graphic designer, a tap-dancer; she played the saxophone and the piano, spoke four languages, wrote poetry, sewed; she was an incredible baker. There was almost nothing you can think of that she couldn't accomplish."

One of the first female art directors in San Francisco, Levinson won more than 40 awards for her work. The Bay Area is dotted with her designs, which include signage for the Marriott Hotel chain, the Sacramento Railroad Museum and logos and annual reports for companies like Genentech and the Pacific Stock Exchange.

Friends described her as assertive, strong, ambitious and courageous. Alan Levinson says his wife revealed those characteristics not only in business but also in life. For his 50th birthday, for example, she pulled off a complicated surprise that landed the couple in Paris.

"I thought we were just dropping friends off at the airport," says Levinson. "But she said, `Happy birthday, Alan. We're going with them,' and kidnapped me."

She had arranged for several friends to be waiting in France, wearing "Happy Birthday, Alan" T-shirts. While they were away, their San Francisco home was being remodeled — unbeknown to him.

Alan Levinson, who works at Northern California Grantmakers, swears he didn't know a thing about the surprise vacation. "I was making appointments, and she was unmaking them behind me."

One of the T-shirt-clad friends in Paris was San Francisco attorney Steve Scherr. Levinson was his sister's college roommate, and the two had been close friends ever since.

"She was the best friend you could possibly have: warm, open, generous. She always gave of herself, but she was very strong-minded, with definite ideas about right and wrong. Pam didn't pull her punches," remembers Scherr.

Judy Berg met Levinson in 1975 when Berg converted to Judaism at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, where Alan Levinson was executive director. As female professionals and recent converts, the two women had much in common, remembers Berg.

Levinson took her conversion very seriously, celebrating her bat mitzvah at the Oakland synagogue after converting, according to Berg.

"Converts are always very committed. You have to go through so much to convert," explains Berg. "Pam assumed her place in Jewish life as if it were a natural thing for her. She was fully committed to Judaism and really participated. It became a very important piece of her life."

Despite a hectic work schedule and ever-widening social circle, Levinson was never too busy to be a part of her husband's religious duties.

"I never did a wedding she didn't come to," says Alan Levinson. "That's hundreds of weddings. She loved them, cried at all of them. She thought any woman looked beautiful as a bride."

As an artist, Levinson was always noticing beauty, he says, or the lack thereof. In fact, he says his wife insisted on leaving the hospital in the last weeks of her illness because "she disliked the furniture.

"She thought it was distasteful, and was unhappy with the color scheme. That was really why she went home."

Having watched the varying hues of his wife's personality over the last quarter century, the rabbi says his wife passed away in what she considered the appropriate garment, a rich magenta jacket "that had just been bought at Nordstrom — on sale."

Levinson is survived by her father, Ramon Ensunsa, and sisters Diana, Kristy and Toni Ensunsa, Jacki Kiyabu and Jodi Pitsillides. Rabbis Pam Baugh of Congregation Or Sholom and Jerry Winston of BARAH officiated along with Alan Levinson at the memorial service. Donations can be sent to the Pamela Levinson Memorial Fund, 1005 Sansome St., Suite 242, S.F., CA 94111. The fund will aid 10 of her favorite charities.