Charlie Levan

Charlie Levan

Charlie Levan worked in customer service for 28 years. You can tell. His voice is soothing and pleasant and he can answer a question without giving anything away. He’s a solution man; he likes to address a problem and find a way to fix it or find another way that fits people’s needs.

“I loved customer service,” he said. “It was very satisfying to me to listen to people and assist them in finding a way through their frustration to a workable resolution.”

Charlie’s career took him up through the management of customer service at AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield. He retired from Chase Manhattan two years ago.

He is now a volunteer with Openhouse working with Director of Operations Matthew Cimino, and volunteer John Langan in the main office—doing the behind-the-scenes stuff so necessary to every organization. His work is all about accurate and secure data entry, spreadsheets, and results. Charlie will celebrate a year as an Openhouse volunteer this February. He’s enjoyed it all and has attended housing workshops, has his name on a couple of lists, and has met new friends.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Charlie was the eldest of seven: five boys and two girls.   Said Charlie, “two of my brothers were gay and contracted AIDS. They both died at home with our mother in attendance. We were very close growing up and as adults.”

“My mother took me aside when I was in High School and told me that she suspected I was gay. She said that it was important that she let me know that she thought I was gay and that it was just fine with her.”

Charlie’s mother eventually marched at AIDS events and went to see the quilt in DC. “My partner had died and I made a quilt for him. It was very simple, just his name and some photographs. My mother never joined PFLAG, the organization for parents of lesbians and gays; she was her own PFLAG group. When we were young, she was heavily involved with NOW, the National Organization for Women. She was the hotline for women in our region. Women would call all times of the day and night and she would look at her list and refer them to organizations that would be able to help them. My mother was a staunch feminist and brought us all up to be feminists.   She was a very courageous woman.” Charlie’s mother just died two years ago.

Charlie landed in San Francisco in 1970 and first lived in an apartment on Church Street, later moving to Belvedere Street in Haight-Ashbury. “Oh, I loved Belvedere Street,” said Charlie. “I have it written in my will that after I’m cremated, I want my ashes spread on Belvedere Street to feed those beautiful trees.”

“We moved before the Castro became ‘The Castro.’ People have accused the gays of running the old working class Irish and Italian families out of the neighborhood, but that wasn’t the truth. Many of the Irish and Italian residents wanted to leave so they could move to the suburbs and raise their children away from city streets. The gays certainly started coming in with money but the older residents were leaving anyway.”

While in San Francisco Charlie lost some 40 friends to AIDS. “There were only two of us left,” he said. “I’m still in therapy dealing with my grief. It has been painful.”

His experiences of loss inspired him to go back to the East Coast. “I couldn’t stand it here—too many of my friends were dying. So, I returned to Philadelphia, made a new circle of friends.   Then they started dying too. AIDS was everywhere; there was no escaping it. One of my brothers died while I was there and the other died in 2005.”

Charlie doesn’t often open up about these things to strangers; he is a fairly reserved man. “I’m not sure why I’m quiet. The rest of my family is pretty gregarious.”

Still, Charlie has season tickets to the opera and ACT and frequently goes to the movies. For the last two years, he has been getting up early and walking for an hour. “I think it has improved my stamina.”

Interview by Emerald O’Leary

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