BY SUE ERWIN – He’s a semi-retired lawyer and mediator, a clinical psychotherapist, a father, and he’s been enjoying this past year living full time in Boca Grande. Many folks on the island are already familiar with Robert Levine, who recently performed a role in the Royal Palm Players’ production of “The Best Man.”
But he admits it wasn’t an easy thing for him to do.
“That was very much out of my comfort zone, but I am very glad I did it,” he said. “The people were wonderful to work with … a very talented and supportive group.”
Robert is very involved in the community. He’s been attending the monthly Boca Grande Historic Board meetings to keep abreast of efforts to preserve the historic district on the island.
“I think what the Board is doing is very important, because without their work, Boca Grande would not be the special and unique place it is now,” Robert said.
Residents can also find Robert at the library several days a week, or attending many of the lectures and events offered at the Boca Grande Community Center.
Originally from Albany, New York, his father was a journalist and his mother was a math teacher.
After graduating from high school, Robert attended the University of Rochester and studied psychology. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he went on to earn to earn two graduate degrees: one in clinical social work and the other in law. He received his law degree from Boston University, and the other degree from Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, Massachusetts.
“I spent much of my career in Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains before moving to Florida,” he said.
The two career paths he chose naturally intertwined, as Robert’s clients were often families in need of his services. He has worked with people of all kinds … some recovering from addiction, some with eating disorders and some who were battling depression. He’s also worked in psychiatric inpatient units in several hospitals.
In law, he did some public defending, and in social work he practiced psychotherapy and mediation.
“In public defending, I represented indigent clients – people who could not afford a lawyer,” he said. “That was through the University of Tennessee Legal Aid Clinic.”
After working in Tennessee for a few years, he moved to a communal holistic living community in western
Massachusetts and lived there for several years.
“”We hosted guests, and we would teach them about changing their lifestyles by eating healthy, organic food and practicing yoga and meditation.”
Having the desire to enjoy warmer weather all year long, he relocated to Sarasota 26 years ago. He chose the city because of the vast amount of arts and cultural programs it
Over the past few years he visited Boca Grande several times, and it didn’t take long for him to discover how special and unique it is. He decided to make Boca Grande his new home about a year ago.
“I’m still getting to know the community, and I’m trying to learn more about the history of the island … and I’ve been meeting many wonderful people along the way.”
He said the combination of the beauty and nature, the quietness and serenity is what brought him to Sarasota – the same things that brought him to Boca Grande.
“Sarasota has grown so much and has become very busy. I wanted to be someplace peaceful.”
Although he still has many friends and some clients in Sarasota and North Port, he spends most of his time on the island.
“I find the people on this island very interesting. It’s been wonderful to meet so many diverse people with similar interests.”
Robert has an adopted daughter, Tianna. She is 18 and attends a Montessori school in Sarasota. Her unique name has a heartfelt meaning behind it.
“Ti means daughter in Vietnamese, and Anna was my grandmother’s name,” Robert said. “Adopting is something I’ve always wanted to do … and Tianna is a great daughter, a very good student and very involved in her school. She’s playing the role of Prospera in her school theater production of ‘The Tempest’ – it’s the lead role.”
Tianna also had a role in the production of “The King and I” at Venice Theater. She played one of the royal children in the play. “She’s very good and she really likes to sing, Robert said.”
Tianna comes to Boca Grande occasionally to visit and seems to really like it here.
“She and her friends enjoy riding the golf cart around and playing tennis and going to some of the restaurants.”
Recently, Tianna has been busy applying to colleges. She plans on studying either criminal justice or nursing.
Robert closed his Sarasota office three years ago but still has some regular clients.
“I have several senior clients who are in assisted living, and most of them are in North Port and Sarasota.”
His mother lives in an assisted living community in Sarasota, so he visits her regularly when he travels there to see performances and visit friends.
Robert is mostly an organic vegetarian and leads a simple, quiet life.
“Boca Grande is a great place for the mind, body and spirit,” he said. “All of the physical activities and intellectual activities engage the mind, and when you combine that with the nature, the water and animals, the unity of it all is magical.”
Robert is one of the founders of the Siesta Key drum circle events that take place on Sundays just before sunset.
“There were only five of us when we started it 21 years ago, and today hundreds come to the event.”
Robert enjoys playing tennis, swimming and riding his bicycle around the island. He also meditates and still participates in the weekly drum circles in the area.
“I think physical exercise helps calm the mind, which can be spiritually healing.”
He also plays bridge.
The first tennis player he met on the island was Dusty Hopkins, publisher of the Boca Beacon. They met on the courts at the Boca Bay Pass Club, and now they play matches regularly.
It’s interesting how Robert discovered Boca Grande. He did an internet search for “quiet islands in Florida” and found an article online published by the New York Times, called “The Other Boca.” It intrigued him so much that he came to visit the island.
“The GICIA is what I initially found most interesting – how the organization works to protect the history and serenity of the island. So my daughter and I came here, and we stayed at The Gasparilla Inn.”
They later returned and stayed at the Anchor Inn and the Boca Grande Club a few times.
During the visits they’d rent a golf cart and Tianna would bring a friend. They would drop Robert off at the library or History Center while he learned more about the island and they explored the town.
“I was so captivated – it felt like I had just stepped into another world and gone back in time,” he said.
Robert has one brother, Jeffrey, who lives in Arizona and is a retired financial planner and current motivational speaker.
When asked about his philosophy of life, he said “I try to always remain in the present, and give back to others whenever possible.”