John L. Levinsohn

Get Involved

Recorded: September 21, 2016

John Levinsohn shares his influential philosophy for a life well lived. The new Mill Valley Redwoods Retirement Center for Dynamic Aging has been named the John L. Levinsohn Center for Dynamic Aging. This is no accident as he is an individual that stays involved in life and community and urges us to do the same. Watch this short video to learn how a "city boy" became a protector of the environment and a nurturing partner for dynamic aging.

John L. Levinsohn was raised in Chicago, Illinois and earned his boy scout medals through mostly urban activities. After meeting environmentalists like Huey Johnson, John found new ways to connect to the environment. Today, he is the namesake and benefactor of the Center for Dynamic Aging at the 10-acre Mill Valley retirement community called the Redwoods. He is the author of two San Francisco Bay history books: Frank Morrison Pixley of the Argonaut (1989); and Cow Hollow: early days of a San Franciscan neighborhood from 1776 (1976).


Huey Johnson: I reflect on you in a number of reasons: one, a very honorable individual, a very ethical and effective businessman helping to develop human habitats on one side, but maintaining a sense of environmental equality on the other. How did you develop an interest in environment?

John Levinsohn: Probably by coming in contact with Huey Johnson.

Huey Johnson: Did you have involvement with nature as a child?

John Levinson: I grew up in Chicago and I could recall doing my twelve mile boy scout hike down Drexel Boulevard and I got a merit badge for that. I should have been walking in the countryside some place, but I wasn’t. I was a city boy.

Huey Johnson: Congratulations on having the center at the Redwoods Retirement Center named after you recently. What is it about?

John Levinsohn: It’s a center for dynamic aging, and I think that’s consistent with the Redwoods. The culture there inspires a lot of contact, social interaction and I think that people can age dynamically and I would hope that the program illustrates just how that can work, and that people who are not residents might find out about it as well and learn about it.

Huey Johnson: You and I have had some environmental experiences, one the subject of water. Give me your reflections on California water.

John Levinsohn: Well I remember that some of the farmers up north some place, and I don’t remember the towns, were very concerned because their creeks went dry and they had 75 salmon who were isolated in the creek, and so they called us. We went up there one night, talked with some very interesting guys and that started a situation where we tried to acquire some old water rights, and it really wasn’t easy and I don’t think that we succeeded.

Huey Johnson: Well, what we learned was I figured you could go out and buy water after the success and [unintelligible] buying land, is that we could simply go buy the water.

 John Levinsohn:  Yeah.

Huey Johnson:  But it turns out that it wasn’t the case.

John Levinsohn:  Right, the water right is a valuable commodity.

Huey Johnson:  It is, and it’s ephemeral that it may exist and it may not. You don’t know for sure when you’re buying it.

John Levinsohn: Right, it’s got to come down the mountain before you can use it.

Huey Johnson:  Right. If you look at the past, you look at the future, if you have any words of wisdom to share or suggestions.

John Levinsohn:  I think involvement in the society of people who are serious, concerned, intellectually honest, is a terribly important thing. World War II seemed more noble as wars go than what we’ve been doing since then, since this awful invasion of Iraq, which started the problems in the Middle East. So I think we’ve created some problems, which are going to be very difficult to overcome and I think our democracy is perhaps the best way to deal with this society. Certainly arbitrary oligopoly isn’t the way to have a happy society. I think we do have perhaps another problem, and that is the inequality of incomes and opportunity, so I think there’s some real problems ahead and I don’t know how they can be solved except by constant attention.

Huey Johnson:  Thank you, John. It’s been an [unintelligible] interview.