A Tribute by William H. Danforth
Photograph by Campus Photographer Herb Weitman
GLADYS LEVIS ALLEN
October 5, 1996
Gladys Watkins grew up in Alton and spent most of her life here. From here she went to Washington University. Here she married and raised four daughters. Here she pursued many of her enthusiasms from politics to education, from civil rights to conservation and improving the lives of others.
Gladys entered Washington University in 1938. She was a phenomenal undergraduate. She seems to have done everything with style, grace and effectiveness. She was president of Mortar Board, then a woman's honorary society, and queen of the May, president of her dormitory and of her sorority. Her fellow students must have admired her greatly or she would never have been selected for these roles. She took part in theater productions. She did well academically, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a major in Biology. With that record, she was admitted to Washington University's Medical School where she was a partner in the anatomy laboratory with a future Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs.
But other priorities intervened so that she dropped out after the second year to marry a handsome and interesting young man, Robert H. Levis, II. Bob and Gladys Levis made their home in Alton raising four wonderful daughters, three of whom are now Washington University arums and now there are 8 grandchildren. Gladys clearly loved her family. They were the central part of her life. In her later years, she married a wonderful new partner, Glenn Allen, who brought more companionship and joy into her life.
In 1971, the Board of Washington University had the good sense to elect this active young alumna to be one of its first women members. That was the same year that I became Chancellor so I have had the good fortune to work with Gladys for about 25 years.
Gladys loved education and especially she loved Washington University. What was she like as a Board member? Anyone who knows her could answer that question. She was great; that is she was like Gladys and like no one else. She was, of course, very intelligent. She had a curiosity that led her always to[ be learning. She knew what was going on. Little if anything escaped her. Unlike some of her fellow Board members, she was interested more in academic than in the business aspects of the University. Her favorite committee was the Educational Policy Committee, that is the committee which not only approves academic policy, but also acts on all of the recommendations for tenure. She realized that committee was the way really to understand the University. She was interested in the people of the University; she understood her fellow humans, recognizing quickly what they were really like and what motivated them. Now some understand their fellow humans in a cynical way. Not Gladys. Her judgments, while accurate, were charitable. She seemed to love everyone and everyone loved her. She always wanted the best for each individual.
She cared also for the values of the institution and whether we were living up to our best. She was especially interested in whether we were doing a good job for minorities, and whether we were hiring and promoting women the way we should. She and Bob were absolutely key to the development of the Mr. and Mrs. Spencer T. Olin Fellowship for women going into academia and into the professions. That program, funded by the Monticello College Foundation, is one of our best. It started one night in the 1970s in the Levis home when some of us sat around and conceived the idea. Today, it has a national a reputation. Young women of great promise from all over the nation hold these fellowships. Many have already gone on to successful careers. They are role models, not just for younger women, but for all of us. Gladys loved that program and as a member of the Board of the College Foundation continued to play a part in it as it developed over the years.
She also had a special interest in several of our students, her daughters. She took pride in their accomplishments and in their development as they grew and learned and took on their own responsibilities. Then when after Bob's death she married Glenn Allen, she got him interested in Washington University so that today I think of Glenn as an adopted alum of Washington University.
Knowing Gladys, I can begin to understand how she did so well in so many varied activities from raising a family to taking a political stand. She had a lively, inquiring mind coupled with lots of energy and stamina and, importantly, a wonderful ability to think independently, to go beyond convention and be creative in new ways. She was balanced and wise. I never saw her loose perspective no matter what the provocation; I never saw her take herself too seriously. She had a practical turn of mind, perhaps related to the time that she spent on the farm and the ranch. That wonderful combination of creativity, practicality and perspective made her ideas on the mark, but good ideas are never enough. Importantly, she was action oriented and well organized so that she could get it done. She was a doer as well as a thinker Added to all that, she had a sympathetic understanding of others, especially those in need. She was forgiving of the foibles and mistakes of her friends and coworkers, but not necessarily always easy on herself, for she had a drive to do something to make the world better.
As I said earlier in these remarks, I think Gladys brought those great qualities of heart and mind to everything she did. She was a model individual. She was a pioneer where women had not gone before. She accomplished a great deal.
She lived a life that was happy, satisfying and productive. She gave herself to her family and friends. The world is better because of her. Her life was a blessing