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Westport > Community News
Thursday, March 16, 2006
By:Melissa L. Shaw
"You have about three more days left to live. Go home and get your affairs in
Many people fear hearing such words. M. Walter Levine, a successful entrepreneur, heard them in 1992 from a New York hospital doctor. "That was pretty frightening," he recalled.
Diagnosed in January 1991 with multiple myeloma, melanoma and subsequently, bladder cancer, Levine had spent the past year in and out of the hospital, receiving 27 heavy doses of chemotherapy.
Instead of taking the doctor's words as a death sentence, Levine, now a 69-year-old Westport resident, got busy living. Upon his release from the hospital that afternoon, Levine walked into a Manhattan Rolls Royce dealership and pointed to a convertible on the showroom floor. "I want that one," he said. When he was told that it would take three days to get the car, he had money wired directly there. "I drove out with it an hour-and-a-half later. People thought I was crazy," he recalled.
Next, Levine sought out and found the "best treatment in the world" for his cancer at the Arkansas Cancer Research Center in Little Rock and Dr. Bart Barlogie. In addition to traditional medicine, Levine took a sea cucumber holistic dietary supplement from Australia. He believes it helped him beat the deadly disease, and still takes it today. He also had a stem cell transplant, which was "one of the first stem cell transplants in the United States," he said.
After the various cancer treatments, Levine said he had to rebuild his body four different times. Today, he exercises regularly ñ walking with five pound weights on each hand and ankle. When told he looks the picture of health, he replies "I am. I think that God gave me a gift and He's allowing me to just give it back." Today, there remains just a tiny trace of cancer in him.
This enthusiastic go-getter said he has a "canít lose" attitude. He credits much of his positive thinking from his late grandfather. "He left me with the idea that I can do whatever I want if I believe I can," Levine said. He also credits some success from listening to God, whom he described as "having a very real presence" in his life. "I'm always with God, and he's always with me," he said, adding his relationship with God is personal.
Relationships and generosity seem a large part of Levine's life. "What I found out is that the more you give to someone else, the more comes back to you," he said with a smile. This positive-minded entrepreneur has owned 11 businesses, most of them successful. However, he finds giving "more satisfying than anything else."
The giving comes in many forms, weaved throughout his life. Among them: he founded and chaired the "We're in this Together" celebrity golf and tennis gala to benefit the Westport Drug and Alcoholism Council. Additionally, the Levine family co-sponsors the Pro Sports Challenge, a fundraiser for group homes for the mentally retarded.
For the past several years, Levine has also helped patients "find the number one doctors" for their disease. He also counsels cancer patients, encouraging them to become cancer survivors like himself. Levine provides support and positive thoughts, telling them to have a determined, "I can beat you cancer" attitude.
From his work with cancer patients, Levine was granted a private meeting with Mother Teresa in 1996. He refers to this event as a blessing which increased his desire to help others. A framed, signed note from Mother Teresa hangs in his office.
Giving back to others started in Levine's life at the age of six. His parents, hard-working Russian immigrants, told him "If you want to go to the movies, earn the money." So, he earned, by selling clothespins he found in the back of the Brooklyn tenement they lived in. His price? Three for a penny. With this first "business," Levine "had a pocketful of money" that was enough to buy movie tickets for his friends too.
The initial clothespin sales became one of many ventures. After serving three years in the U.S. Army, he married Fritzie (his wife of 48 years). Levine attended a New York beauty academy, where he placed first in a haircutting competition. He landed his first job at the then-famous Fountain Bleu Hotel in Miami Beach and styled the hair of celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Connie Francis, and Barbara Streisand.
Levine's next move was starting six beauty salons - mainly located in New York's Catskill mountains. By this time, he and Fritzie started a family. After learning that his young son was retarded, the entrepreneur found The Rocky Mountain Rehabilitation Center and a top doctor in Colorado Springs, Colo. Hoping the center might help his son, Levine "sold everything and moved to Colorado Springs." There, Levine started yet another business - this time a beauty salon in an upscale department store. This salon "didn't do well - so I lost all my money," he said.
The family of seven - four children, his mother, Levine and his wife - moved back to New York with only $300 left. Undaunted, Levine again branched out into one profitable business after another. Among them were a car wash, selling real estate in the Bahamas, and a Dictograph franchise called Protective Alarms. Eventually they moved to Trumbull, Conn., then to Westport in 1980.
Although business life was busy, Levine said he made time for his children, taking the family on several trips "so they all would have a good memory of being together." Fridays became pizza night, with "mandatory" attendance each week for everyone. Today, his grown children and seven grandchildren have close ties, and he proudly and excitedly reported that all live within 15 miles of his home.
Levine's latest business venture is providing motivational speeches. Two quotes on his business card state: "To be enthusiastic, you gotta act enthusiastic," and "How can I help you?" These two attitudes have been keys to his business success. "It's never about the money. If it's just about the money, you lose," he said.