Dr. Theodore Clinton “Ted,” “Dr. Teddy” or “Dr. Teddy Bear” Levitas, 92, died Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.
Dr. Levitas was a leading figure in pediatric dentistry for over 60 years and was a prominent member of the Atlanta Jewish community. He was born in Atlanta on April 9, 1924, to Louis J. and Ida G. Levitas and graduated from Boys’ High in 1941, where he served as editor in chief of the school newspaper. From there he went on to Emory University on a journalism scholarship and served as editor in chief of the Emory Wheel. Ted interrupted his studies to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he had his first experience in health care as a pharmacist’s mate aboard the USS Hoggatt Bay in the Pacific. He returned to Emory after the war, intending to pursue a career in journalism, but his cousins Irving and Marvin Goldstein, who were both practicing dentistry in Atlanta, persuaded him to accept a position at Emory University Dental School, where he received a D.D.S. degree in 1950. That launched one of the most distinguished careers in the history of American dentistry, spanning more than six decades.
In 1959, Dr. Levitas began to concentrate his practice on dentistry for children, and in 1966, after attending Emory Dental School on a part-time basis while continuing to treat patients, he was awarded a master of science in dentistry degree with a concentration in pediatric dentistry. For the next 45 years, Dr. Levitas was a recognized leader in the field of children’s dentistry, serving as president of both the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Society of Dentistry for Children, as well as of the Southeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry (which holds an annual lecture in his name), the Northern (Georgia) District Dental Society and Atlanta’s Thomas P. Hinman Dental Society. Dr. Levitas served in many other leadership roles with national, state and local dental associations and was active in planning and organizing many dental meetings and conferences, including the Hinman Society’s celebrated annual meeting. He was a frequent and sought-after lecturer on children’s dentistry, nationally and internationally, and expressed his love for writing by contributing extensively to dental literature.
For the last several decades of his career, Dr. Levitas devoted himself to the care of medically compromised and handicapped children and was appointed a diplomate of the American Board of Special Care Dentistry. He was a longtime member of the staff of both Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital and Egleston Children’s Hospital (now known as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta). He was the first dentist to become president of the hospital medical-dental staff of Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital and started the dental surgery program at Egleston Children’s Hospital. Throughout his career Dr. Levitas served the community by providing free dental care one morning a week at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, where he was chief of staff for many years and chief emeritus beginning in 1998. He also devoted a substantial portion of his practice to serving Medicaid patients and other children who did not have easy access to quality dental care. He touched and improved the lives of thousands of children and their parents, who lovingly referred to him as Dr. Teddy Bear. Dr. Levitas’ many honors and awards include the American Society of Dentistry for Children’s Award of Excellence, the Georgia Dental Association’s Award of Merit, the Wood Lovell Award for service to patients at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital and the Emory University Dental Alumni Association Award for Meritorious Service, and he was honored in 2006 by Families of Children Under Stress (FOCUS). He was included in the 2007 edition of Who’s Who in America. Like his parents before him, Ted was a proud and observant member of the Jewish faith and was actively engaged his entire life in Atlanta’s Jewish community. He was a lifelong member of the Ahavath Achim congregation. He celebrated his second bar mitzvah at the age of 83 by reading his original bar mitzvah portion at Shabbat services with all of his immediate family, extended family and friends in attendance. He celebrated his 90th birthday in 2014 by reading from the Torah with all of his immediate family, extended family and friends in attendance.
Ted was a leader in many Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, AZA/B’nai B’rith (in which he won a number of oratory competitions in his youth and later in life co-wrote and produced several musical comedies) and the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity. He was also deeply devoted to his extended family, maintaining close relationships with dozens of cousins and their children across the country. A lifelong Democrat, Ted was passionate about politics and was an early supporter of civil rights and remained dedicated to social justice throughout his life. He took great pride in the career of his brother Elliott who served in the Georgia legislature and U.S. Congress from 1966 through 1984, and he played an important role in the management of his brother’s many campaigns. But more than partisan causes, he was a staunch believer in the enduring strength of America’s political system and had an unwavering confidence in the democratic process.
Ted was an enthusiastic sportsman and sports fan. He enjoyed considerable success as an amateur fencer on the national and international levels and was an avid pingpong player and golfer (known on the Standard Club golf course for his flamboyant attire). He was devoted to Atlanta’s sports teams, having been an original Falcons season tickets holder and an ardent fan of the Braves and Hawks. A particular highlight was seeing Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s career home run record with his sons in 1974, the day before his 50th birthday. But for all his accomplishments and interests, the most important thing to remember about Ted Levitas is that he never met a stranger. He always had a smile on his face and a kind word or a joking comment for anyone he encountered, which continued with nurses and visitors to the very end of his life. Everyone who met him, from whatever walk of life, felt at ease in his presence.
Ted was preceded in death by his first wife of 22 years, Earlyne Shankerman Levitas. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Miriam Strickman Levitas; brother and sister-in-law Elliott and Barbara Levitas; children Steven and Betsy Levitas, Leslie Levitas and Richard Martin, Dr. Tony Levitas and Robyn Rousso, Andrew Strickman, and Dr. Brian Strickman-Levitas, Craig Strickman-Levitas, and Deron Strickman-Levitas; and grandchildren Jake, Emmy, Graham and Chloe Levitas.
Sign the online guestbook at www.edressler.com. A funeral service was held Friday, Sept. 16, at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Buckhead, with Rabbi Neil Sandler officiating; burial followed at Arlington Memorial Park in Sandy Springs. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Ahavath Achim Synagogue or the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999.