Mimi Levin Lieber

Sociologist
1928 – 2021
by Ruth, Lady Morris of Kenwood, CBE (née Janner)

Portrait of Mimi Levin Lieber, Spencertown, New York, June 1991. Courtesy of James Lieber.

Mimi was one of the very special people in my life. We first met in the mid-1950s when Mimi came to live in London; I was in my early 20s and Mimi was slightly older. We were introduced by our fathers—Theodore Levin and Barnett Janner—who were very prominent in World Jewry, Mimi’s father being a U.S. federal judge and mine a Member of Parliament. It also happened that Mimi’s mother’s family and my mother’s family came from the same shtetl, Plungyan, in today’s Lithuania. And over the years, our families followed parallel paths of engagement in Jewish affairs and politics.

We gelled immediately in every way, and our close, loving, and immensely valued friendship— sharing joys and sorrows—lasted throughout the rest of her life, even though we were often separated by an ocean.

Mimi’s achievements were legion. She was a pioneer in opinion research relating to consumers and was at the forefront of shifting the thinking from what manufacturers make, to what consumers want. Her ground-breaking work in the transformation of sociology as a tool for studying people in general into a tool for the study of people as consumers helped to formulate many of what became widely-adopted methods of surveying public opinion and doing consumer research.

She got a head start on this work during the years she spent in London, while she and I were laying the foundations of our lifelong friendship. We shared the same unusual trajectory of being young women from upper-middle-class Jewish families pursuing professional careers—I worked as a lawyer, a career I continued into my mid-eighties—something that was virtually unheard of in those days, especially after having children.

While her professional success was undoubtedly stellar, Mimi’s passion was education, and like me she was fiercely devoted to helping young people. It was something we talked about often. Mimi was intensely committed to education and particularly to helping under-privileged children. During her time on the New York State Board of Regents (1981-1996), she spearheaded elementary school reform and the revamping of school finance and administration practices, helping to redirect funds to underserved districts.

One of the achievements of which she was most proud, was the founding of Literacy, Inc. (LINC), an educational non-profit that works to equip children with literacy skills. She remained involved as a board member right up until her death.

Over and above work and careers, philanthropy was ingrained in us both from our upbringings and the examples set to us by our parents. It was another key value that we shared and discussed.

But as much as her work meant to her, nothing was more important to Mimi than her family. She and I both had four children—she three boys and one girl, and I three girls and one boy—and over the decades we were lucky to share the experience of raising close and loving families. It was a source of great happiness to us both to see our friendship reflected in the fondness between our children, and to witness them building successful lives and families of their own.

Always the loving, devoted matriarch, Mimi had in her husband Charles a rock and supporter throughout their long marriage. They were wonderful, welcoming, contagiously joyous hosts, and her traditionally Jewish home was always filled with family, friends, and fun. I loved spending time with her both in New York City and in her country home in upstate New York and reciprocating when she and the family visited us in London.

Mimi was highly intelligent and widely well-informed. We would have lengthy conversations about politics—both American and British—and many a strongly held view was exchanged between us!  She loved music, theater, and concerts, and was a regular and enthusiastic attendee at the Tanglewood Festival close to her cherished upstate home.

Many of my happiest moments and memories of our friendship are woven into her lovely home and the beautiful landscape that surrounded it. My favorite times were when we would take our daily walk down to the beautiful pond, have a little swim, then, reclining on deck chairs, chat and reminisce about everything.

Mimi loved people, and her infectious personality meant they loved her too. No matter how busy she was—and she was—she managed to stay in touch and keep up her myriad friendships and relationships. This involved a LOT of time on the phone, which meant it could be fiendishly difficult to get hold of her. Her phone was almost always engaged, or she didn’t answer. But when she did, at the point she thought the conversation was at an end, she simply put the phone down without ever saying goodbye first!

Mimi was generous to a fault and unstinting in sharing the gifts of her own life with others.

For me and so many others, she was a beacon in her life, her achievements, and her family—an example of how to do those things with dazzling flair, dedication, passion, love, and success.

I treasured everything about our friendship, and I miss her every day.

 

 

Topics: Social Science
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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Mimi Levin Lieber." (Viewed on April 17, 2024) <http://jwa.org/weremember/levin-lieber-mimi>.