Remembering Phillip Levy, an Advocate for SoHE Students and Design Excellence

Phillip Levy, in a light blue polo shirt and green cap, shakes hands with Audrey Dybdahl, in a black jacket, at the 2019 SoHE Golf Outing fundraiser

Phillip Levy shakes hands with Audrey Dybdahl at the 2017 SoHE Golf Outing. Mr. Levy conceived of and helped organize the annual fundraiser, raising tens of thousands of dollars to support internships for SoHE students.

SoHE lost a special member of its community last month with the passing of Board of Visitors member Phillip A. Levy. A committed friend of the school and a fixture of Madison’s design and philanthropic communities, he advocated for the human ecology approach across his endeavors. The Phillip A. Levy Design Excellence Fund will honor his legacy and support areas of greatest need and opportunity in SoHE’s Design Studies department.

“From his very first meeting, Phil was challenging all of us to consider how we might expand our efforts in support of the school and especially its students,” says SoHE Board of Visitors Chair Barbara Tensfeldt. “He was passionate about students having contact with professionals and professional organizations in their field of study, and he definitely led by example.”

“He really was a marvelous resource for our students,” says Faculty Associate Lesley Sager, who teaches in the Interior Architecture major. “He inspired them with his extensive experience and community spirit, his support for their professional development, and his actively connecting them with those working in the field.”

As a member of SoHE’s Board of Visitors beginning in 2016, Mr. Levy conceived of and organized the school’s first annual golf outing that raised over $20,000 to support student internships. He also contributed to the 100 Women campaign in honor of his mother Dorothy Barvin Levy.

Born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Mr. Levy was an alum of UW and of the famous Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, as well as a member of the International Interior Design Association, whose Wisconsin chapter he led for several years. He founded and ran Phillip Levy Fine Furniture and Interior Design on Madison’s east side for more than 30 years, providing custom solutions for a wide range of clients and projects, including the renovation of the Chancellor’s residence, Olin House, in the mid-2000s.

“The goal was to create a welcoming space with grace and functionality, the front door of the University, accommodating a wide range of users and occasions—athletes, students, campus officials, faculty, visiting dignitaries, members of the community… events of several hundred people, quiet dinners,” explains SoHE Professor Emerita Virginia Terry Boyd, who served on the Olin House Advisory Council. “My contribution was knowledge of historic houses of that period, and Phil had years of experience designing large homes and understanding their many intricacies. It was a challenge, but Phil was the perfect partner to carry it out.”

Phillip Levy (center right) w his brother Jeff, SoHE Dean Soyeon Shim (right), and SoHE Dean Emerita Robin Douthitt (left) at the 100 Women Celebration in 2018.

Phillip Levy (center right) w his brother Jeff, SoHE Dean Soyeon Shim (right), and SoHE Dean Emerita Robin Douthitt (left) at the 100 Women Campaign Celebration in 2018.

Just prior to his death, Mr. Levy made a generous gift that would establish the Phillip A. Levy Design Excellence Fund, which will support key projects of the Design Studies department. These include opportunities to expose design studies students to notable designers and artists, faculty teaching initiatives that connect students to professional organizations and professional development experiences, and promoting excellence in the next generation of interior designers. He will also be memorialized in the newly constructed Ember Hall at SoHE.

“Phil was a true human ecology spirit, always generous with his time and talents, and eager to support our students in every way he could,” says SoHE Dean Soyeon Shim. “We miss him dearly already, and we know his impact will continue on through the many gifts he shared with us and the deep faith he placed in our shared human ecology mission.”


To learn more about the Phillip A. Levy Design Excellence Fund, contact SoHE’s Director of Development Claire Mezick.

View Mr. Levy’s obituary, learn more about his company, and see this 2018 video interview he gave with Wisconsin’s 57 Talk of the Town program, noting of his approach, “It’s all very personal, and that’s kind of how we work.”

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