Things were different when Leon Levy, BS ’57, began his professional life, first as a staff pharmacist and later as owner of West Coast Pharmacy on the corner of Irving and 7th. He did his own compounding, mixing chemicals with various ingredients to create elixirs, lotions, and other treatments for his customers. There was a soda fountain, where you could sip a malted milkshake while waiting for prescriptions to be filled—and you could even find a place to park!
It sounds like a simpler time, but Levy’s path to get there was far from simple. Born in Frankfurt in 1932, he immigrated with his parents to the U.S. in 1938 to escape the escalating pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany. They were sponsored by and lived with his aunt and uncle, who settled in Louisiana in 1933. The rest of his family did not survive.
“The shocker in the South was segregation,” Levy says, “and if you were a refugee, you were also discriminated against.” Young Leon adapted, quickly picking up English and learning not to ask questions in public about why blacks had to use separate bathrooms. After seven years the family left Louisiana for California’s gentler climes.
Living in the Sunset District of San Francisco, the 16-year-old Levy happened to walk by a pharmacy on the corner of Balboa and 18th streets. “I went in and asked if they needed any help, and that’s how I got started,” he says. His boss, Mr. Rae, suggested the boy consider a career in pharmacy.
“He told me, you’re not going to get rich. But it’s a good living, and you’re providing a service to the community,” Levy says. He entered UCSF for a bachelor’s degree and apprenticed in a pharmacy to learn the business. If you lasted one year, you could start filling prescriptions.
“I haven’t forgotten the other pharmacists and how much they helped me out,” Levy says. Likewise, he remembers how much UCSF helped him, with tuition subsidized by the state and a solid education for a worthy profession. Last year he established the Leon Levy and Family Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will fund scholarships for students enrolled in the PharmD program at the School of Pharmacy.
“Leon’s long and exemplary practice gives him special insight into the important role pharmacists can play in their communities,” says School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo Jr., PharmD, “and we are very grateful for his generous support of our PharmD students.”
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