It was 1985, and as a very young man, I had the idea of starting a magazine for the buying segment of the produce industry. Back in those days, and long before desktop publishing made it easy to produce a publication, the world was filled with typesetting shops, and I walked into one in Pelham, NY. It was called Diana Levine’s Computer Typesetting, and it was there I met Diana Levine. It is fair to say the experience changed my life. Diana guided me in the design, page layout and all of the nuances needed in typesetting the very first issue of Produce Business magazine. Over the next 37 years, we would work together virtually every day. At various times, I worked with her husband and most of her children.
Things changed of course. Desktop publishing was invented, and that mammoth typesetting machine — the Compugraphic Teletype Machine — became obsolete. In time, Diana closed her shop and joined us as a full-time employee. Eventually, she moved with us down to Boca Raton, FL.
Diana would often be seen with our crew at various events. Over the years, she came to many of our own trade shows, but also other events. For a while, we published a daily newsletter at the United Convention, and Diana was at our booth, all day and night putting it together. When we launched our own events in New York, London and Amsterdam, she was there, handling registrations and assisting with many other projects.
Her typesetting eye was impeccable. She saw the artistry in every font and every layout. She knew how to make a page authoritative or beautiful, and, frankly, as desktop publishing put typesetting in the hands of novices, it also lowered its quality, and experts, such as Diana, became rare.
Once we had an advertising salesperson who had previously worked for one of the industry newspapers. He threw a fit one day and blurted out that since he brought in a lot of sales, everyone else in the organization was thus less important. I remember sitting down with him and explaining that he misunderstood. Sure, he was bringing in the sales, and that is certainly not an easy job, but all his success depended on many people backing him up. Nobody would ever buy ads from him if the magazine wasn’t editorially strong, nicely designed, distributed well and much more.
On the week before her passing, Diana wasn’t feeling great, so she asked to work from home. But she was working hard on Friday, fell weak over the weekend, was in hospice care by Monday and died by Wednesday. Incredibly, this woman lived to be 88 years old, working at a high level, side by side with our team all the way until she couldn’t work anymore.
She was an exceptional person. In telling me that the family had chosen the Fresh Air Fund as her charity, her oldest son reminded me of their life:
When we were growing up, it was not uncommon to have 14 or 15 people sitting at our dinner table. More accurately, it was several tables cobbled together to provide enough seating for all those who needed to eat. At the tables, there were Mom and Dad, the 6 siblings, 2 adopted sisters, 1 or 2 foreign exchange students and usually a few others who were down on their luck who Mom and Dad had taken in.
I don’t know if those who Mom took in ever tried to pay her money, but I’m sure she would not have accepted it if they did. It wasn’t until we were much older that we realized this was not the same experience that other families had growing up.
Every summer, there would be even more people sitting at our dinner table. Mom and Dad would host an additional 5 or 6 kids from a program called the “Fresh Air Fund.” The “Fresh Air Fund” provides kids from low-income communities summer experiences outside of the inner city. Mom and Dad hosted the same kids every summer for many years. Ronald, Robert, Jesus, Doreen, Vicky and Robin… whom Mom kept in contact with even after all these years.
I never heard Diana complain. In almost 40 years of demanding work, I cannot remember even one objection. If things had to be done, she was dedicated to finding a way to do them. She was innovative and dedicated and simply didn’t quit until the job was done. In the great entrepreneurial journey that has been this magazine, there were more than a few all-nighters, with Diana and a strong pot of coffee pulling us through.
I thought about whether I should write this column… After all, most of the readers will have never met Diana nor heard her name. Yet, it seems to me that all businesses have these unsung heroes.
People send jets to pick me up, and I travel the world giving speeches. There is no country on earth where industry members don’t read my work. Yet none of it would have been possible without Diana Levine, whose work to make it happen was tireless.
I visited with her the evening before she passed. I believe in some way that my reassuring her that our company would go on… that the great work she had been engaged in with us since 1985 had a future… gave her the peace to let go.
I have never known a harder worker nor anyone who more seamlessly accepted whatever obstacles life threw at her. She believed fully and completely in me, and in the great project we have worked on here at Produce Business since 1985.
I doubt any of us shall ever see her kind again.
May her memory be a blessing and her life an inspiration for us all. To donate to the Fresh Air Fund, visit https://freshair.org/donate-acq/.