As an assignment editor at Boston’s three major network-affiliate TV stations, including 30 years at WCVB, Channel 5, Phil Levy was responsible for monitoring the day’s news conferences, listening to police and fire department scanners, reviewing wire service reports, and scouring the daily newspapers.
He juggled reporters and news crews and prioritized what needed to be covered, often while fielding numerous phone calls from staffers on the go and media relations firms pitching stories.
“The crazier it got, the more I think he liked it, and a fine sense of humor sustained him,” recalled Clark Booth, a retired award-winning reporter who was Mr. Levy’s colleague at Channels 4 and 5. “When the going got tough, he never backed away. Phil was a trouper who always had your back. And he loved the business, reveled in it, and believed in it deeply.”
Mr. Levy, whom some co-workers compared to a maestro conducting a symphony of reporters and camera crews, was a talented writer who also produced WCVB’s midday and 6 p.m. newscasts. A mentor to station interns and to his students at Boston University and Emerson College, Mr. Levy died Nov. 25 in Newton-Wellesley Hospital of complications from cancer. He was 75 and lived in Framingham.
“He was someone I always looked up to,” said former WCVB news director Emily Rooney. “Phil followed the news and consumed it in a low-key manner, and was very gracious. He was a mensch and the most even-tempered person I ever worked with in my life. We had a bond that lasted well after I left the station.”
Ted Canova, who was one of Mr. Levy’s Emerson students and later worked alongside him at WCVB, said he was “a creative, out-of-the-box teacher with an engaging personality.” Canova recalled that in one class, a friend of Mr. Levy’s would rush in screaming and pretending to be holding a weapon — and then leave abruptly.
“Phil would ask us what we had just seen, and had us write a story based on the alleged perpetrator,” Canova said. “He showed us early on as journalists that we were eyewitnesses to news, and we needed to have both eyes open to report it accurately.”
Canova said Mr. Levy had a sharp memory for names and birthdays, and had as many friends — if not more — outside the news business. Many of those names were in his extensive, go-to Rolodex.
A son of Samuel Levy and the former Mary Silverman, Philip R. Levy grew up in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland, Maine. A graduate of Portland High School, he cherished and maintained the friendships of his youth.
A 1966 Emerson graduate, Mr. Levy was close to the late Jim Thistle, former news director at all three of Boston’s major network affiliates of his era: WBZ-TV, Channel 4; WCVB-TV, Channel 5; and WHDH-TV, Channel 7. Thistle, who also formerly directed Boston University’s College of Communication broadcast journalism program, encouraged Mr. Levy to teach at BU and to move from Channel 4 to Channel 5.
In 1982, WCVB was awarded a New England Emmy for Outstanding News Program, produced by Mr. Levy. The news team included Rooney and Natalie Jacobson, a coanchor.
“He was absolutely delightful to work with,” said Jacobson, a fixture at the station from 1972 to 2007. “As an assignment editor, Phil had the worst job in TV news and was constantly under the gun, but I always think of him with a smile on his face.”
Jeanne Culleton met Mr. Levy when she was applying for a job at a Boston movie theater that he managed during his student days. They were married for more than 40 years.
She was director of convention services for AP Conventions in Boston for 31 years. After Mr. Levy retired from Channel 5 in 2008, he helped her with conventions and events, at which he renewed acquaintances with former colleagues and those in the media.
Although their professions and working hours sometimes kept them apart, the couple made the most of their time together by taking in theater productions and shows in New York City and Las Vegas, and by traveling extensively. Sanibel Island in Florida was a favorite destination.
Jeanne said her husband “lived in the moment and loved to help others.” Once while holiday shopping, she recalled, “we were standing in a parking lot when a woman had her purse stolen. Phil not only opened his wallet and gave her money so she could shop, he also used his work contacts to call the Framingham police, who found the guy who did it.”
Mr. Levy, a Disney fan who wore Mickey Mouse watches, drove with two vanity license plates on his cars: WCVBTV and WCVB5.
“He enjoyed it when people asked him about the plates because he loved talking about what he did,” Jeanne said. “Some days he’d come home and be totally wiped out, but other days he could hit the ceiling because everything went right.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Levy leaves a brother, Robert of Natick.
A service has been held. Burial was at Framingham-Natick Jewish Cemetery in Natick.
“Phil was a consummate gentleman and a genuine newsman with a passion for the business and for people,” said Katie Marquedant, a former WCVB intern and colleague on the assignment desk. “He called me the little sister he never had. If you were Phil’s friend, you were his friend for life and he knew everything about you.”
Mr. Levy “had a real sense of the city,” said Jim Boyd, a former longtime WCVB news anchor and reporter. “He also had an incredible and quick wit and an enormous personality, and his news judgement was as sharp as anyone’s I have ever seen.”
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