Mitchel R. Levitas, a longtime leading editor for The New York Times and a 1959 Nieman Fellow, died June 22 in New Marlborough, Massachusetts from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease and pneumonia. He was 89.
Levitas, who spent nearly four decades at the Times, oversaw the newspaper’s Metro section, first as assistant editor and then as editor, in the 1970s and retired in 2002 as editorial director of book development. Over the years, he also served as editor of the Op-Ed page—what he considered his favorite post—as well as deputy foreign editor and editor of the weekend edition of the paper, The New York Times Book Review, and The Week in Review section.
Born in 1929 in the Bronx, New York, to Jewish immigrants who had fled Russia, Levitas graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and attended Brooklyn College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and was the editor in chief of the student newspaper, The Vanguard. The college shut down the newspaper—deemed radically leftist—and disciplined the top staff in 1950, as Levitas’s tenure came to a close.
He began his career at the government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, at the Russian desk, in 1951. Two years later, he joined The New York Post as a reporter; in 1957, he was awarded a George Polk Award for metropolitan reporting for his series on how labor racketeers exploited Puerto Rican workers.
Following his Nieman fellowship year, he worked as an assistant editor at Time magazine before joining The New York Times in 1965 as a writer and editor for The New York Times Magazine. In addition to his many editing posts at the newspaper over the years, he wrote articles for the magazine as well as book reviews and, for the opinion pages and magazine, “Editorial Notebook” essays. In his final post, as editorial director of book development, he was instrumental in putting together anthologies of the paper’s reportage on major historical events and volumes of the best travel writing by Times reporters. Following his retirement in 2002, he continued to serve as a consultant for the Times’s book development office until 2014.
Levitas wrote the text for “America in Crisis,” a 1969 book showcasing Magnum photo agency images from the 1960s.
Levitas is survived by his wife, Gloria; two sons, Daniel and Anthony; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.