David Levering was a man of exceptional vigor, intellect, and humor. Born in Redlands to a California native son and a farm girl from Kentucky, he had a peripatetic childhood. When the Depression hit, his father took over the Los Angeles branch of Redlands Savings and Loan, and the family lived in houses between foreclosure and resale. He and his brother attended seven elementary schools in four years. Later, he worked as a page in the Sacramento Assembly, as well as a waiter and a ferryboat man on Balboa Island. He understood the life of a working man long before going to the University of Redlands, where he majored in history and was elected student body president. Fueled by a strong humanitarian impulse, David planned to become a Baptist Minister.
After college he took a job with the World University Service, an NGO established after World War II to help students and professors from war-torn areas in Europe and Asia. WUS sent David to India for orientation along with other new hires. It was only two years after Mahatma Ghandi’s death; a two-hour interview with Nehru made a lasting impression on him. Nehru’s commitment to non-violence marked David for life. His brother’s death in the Korean War may also have influenced his commitment to peace. His strong belief in politics as a way to make change also took root during this period.
David earned a PhD in history from Claremont Graduate School and soon began a thirty-year career as professor of history at California Polytechnic-Pomona marked by academic distinction and political activism. Although he became an academic, his spiritual roots ran deep. The Danforth Foundation named him a Danforth Associate, an honor awarded to young faculty of promise. “They recognized in David a person of great intellect who also could engage students and colleagues in mutual respect. That quality was present throughout his life. It is rare to find a person of deep political and social convictions who also recognized and respected the worth of people with whom he disagreed,” notes Richard L. Johnson, history professor emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona.
Following his retirement in 1992, David was invited by the Cunard Line to lecture on the history and culture of ports of call on the Queen Elizabeth 2 between Sydney, Australia and Tokyo, Japan. The invitation led him to Lillian, an Aussie who became the light of his life for the next twenty-six years. Together, they made the most of life on two continents as long as their health allowed.
A man of intellect, David was also a man of action. In 1996 he accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party to run against the area’s entrenched Republican Representative to Congress, David Dreier. “A pie in the sky idealist,” as he described himself, he was realistic enough to recognize that life in Congress would require constant compromise, but believed that the challenge was not insurmountable. Claremont Friends Meeting joined his colleagues in the campaign. “Although I didn’t win, it was a fascinating, rewarding experience,” was his characteristically positive response to the loss.
David’s life was twice marked by tragedy: the death of his brother in the Korean War, and the murder of his eleven-year-old daughter Lisa Levering in 1969. He maintained his optimism in spite of life’s blows. His sympathy for the down-and-out, a legacy of the Depression, was perhaps intensified by these experiences. In any case, his role as a founder of CHAP, the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program, at the end of his life testified to his enduring empathy for those bowed and broken by life. A member of Claremont Friends Meeting for 26 years, he lived according to his principles with purpose, humor, and zest. David was truly a man for all seasons.