As a humble, quiet, generous and kind man, Norman Levan most importantly loved helping others.
Dr. Levan, a longtime Bakersfield dermatologist and philanthropist, died in his home Sunday at age 98.
Robert Allison, his friend of more than 25 years, was there when Levan died. Allison is also the director of the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning at Bakersfield College, named in honor of his friend and colleague. Levan had donated nearly $20 million to the college.
"He was a contributor to mankind in many different ways. As a physician, as a philanthropist, as a teacher and as a researcher," Allison said. "He was the kind of person who wants to make a difference in the world."
Levan was a dermatologist for 73 years, 55 of which were in Bakersfield, and he continued to treat patients until he was 96.
Carmen Schaad knew him for 45 years, and the pair become great friends when she worked for him. She was Levan's nurse and former office manager. She also cared for him as his health declined, feeding him breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for three years.
Levan's wife, Betty, died at 87 in 2005.
Schaad said Levan was a talented physician and always seemed sensitive to patients' needs.
"He wanted them to feel at ease because that was part of the healing process," Schaad said.
He was also one of the only dermatologists in Bakersfield who accepted Medi-Cal, and if a patient couldn't afford services he would discount costs and allow them to make payments, Schaad said.
His generosity was well known in the community. Learning and supporting education was important to him.
On the wall of his Bakersfield office always hung a quote from Levan reading "Educate yourself unceasingly -- for from your knowledge you make not only your living, but your life," said Schaad.
Levan was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and attended high school in Detroit.
In 2011, he donated $14 million to the Bakersfield College Foundation to support scholarships and educational services. In 2006 he donated $5.7 million to BC.
The combined donations exceeded any other gift made to the college by more than $10 million, according to a news release from BC.
The Norman Levan Center for Humanities at BC was named in his honor.
He also gave $10 million for student scholarships to the University of Southern California, where he majored in English and earned his medical degree in 1939. Additionally, he gave $2 million to USC to endow a chair in medical ethics, and $6 million in 2007 to establish the Levan Institute of Humanities and Ethics.
He also donated millions to St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M., and to a hospital in Jerusalem.
"I knew him very well and he was the kind of person interested not in money, but in the true value of an education and helping people better themselves and realize their potential," Allison said. "When he obtained some wealth, he used it in a very a positive way."
Jack Hernandez, director of the Norman Levan Center for Humanities, said he most remembers Levan enjoying life, even as he aged, and that generosity was a huge part of who he was as a person.
Levan recently attended the Bakersfield College Honor Reception on May 9 and sat with students.
"He was so animated and really enjoyed the students," Hernandez said.
Mary K. Shell, former Bakersfield mayor, had known Levan and his wife since they moved to Bakersfield more than 30 years ago.
"He was one of the most intelligent human beings that I have ever known. He really had a fabulous mind and was very well-read," Shell said. "He was a fascinating individual and his mind never stopped working."
Schaad said Levan was "incessantly" reading, and she estimated he had read thousands of books throughout his life.
He always had a positive attitude, friends said.
"He was a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor," Shell said. "Sometimes people as intelligent as Norman take themselves too seriously."