Doug Leverich's obituary
The article below ran in the San Jose Mercury News.
OBITUARY: Doug Leverich, did everything well
Cancer claims promising life; creative talent leaves mark
BY MACK LUNDSTROM Mercury News Staff Writer
It started late in July with swelling in the lymph nodes and a mounting shoulder pain that Doug Leverich finally couldn't ignore.
He had spent the summer reflecting about his first year in the exclusive drama school at UCLA. It had been challenging, he told his mother, Janet, a Realtor, and his father, Lyle, vice president of engineering for GHz Technology. But he also found it impersonal, enough so that he wanted to think about pursuing another of his talents -- music -- at a smaller college back East.
The plane tickets Janet Leverich bought for a reconnaissance mission remained unused 11 weeks later.
That's all it took for a cancer on the rise, high-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, to kill her son. Douglas Leverich was 19, on the threshold of a life of promise.
``What was so special about Doug was that he was good at almost everything,'' said Judith Sutton, his senior English teacher at Saratoga High School, ``and then he could talk about it.''
``He wrote very well,'' she said. ``He had an incredible vocabulary, and he was very articulate. He could research. His poetry was quite good. If you figure I had him when he was 17 and he was at the top of his class, if he continued . . .''
Friends' sentences often trailed off this week when they talked about the multi talented Doug Leverich.
He was a reader at age 2, said his mother. He went along on kindergarten field trips with his brother, Glen, who is two years older. ``Doug started playing the piano at 5,'' said Janet Leverich. ``There isn't anything he didn't do well -- sports, speaking, fixing computers for me . . .''
Teacher Robert Scarola saw superior work almost from the minute Doug Leverich arrived as a midyear sixth-grader at Oak Street School in the Saratoga Union School District.
``Doug stands out because he was so confident, not in an aggressive or demonstrative way. He had an enigmatic smile, a little like the Mona Lisa; because of that, he was a bit mysterious.''
By the time he had reached Saratoga High and the challenge of analyzing ``Romeo and Juliet'' and ``Cyrano de Bergerac,'' Doug Leverich's computer keyboard knew volumes, said his English teacher, Nelson Graff. While most of his students wrote half-page essays, Doug Leverich wrote seven or eight pages. ``One of their assignments was to write their own epic,'' Graff said. ``Doug was one of those who got carried away; his ended up 40 pages -- as a ninth-grader.''
Dramatically, Doug Leverich was central to the establishment of a full theater arts curriculum at Saratoga High. After the Little Theatre was built, he often took the lead, for instance the Jimmy Stewart role in ``You Can't Take It With You.'' Anne Gilbert was his mother in that play and his wife in the ``Music Man.'' ``We didn't figure out we were supposed to be married until the play was over,'' said Gilbert, who was a neighbor and became his car pool confidante.
For Saratoga High's 14-member Jazz Choir, Doug Leverich became pianist, guitarist and sometime tenor.
When the choir earned a trip to the Bournemouth Festival in the south of England -- and the ensemble won its inscription on the first-place trophy bowl -- Nikki Teeter was one of the parent chaperones. In the atrium of a mansion-turned-art-museum, Doug Leverich discovered a grand piano, she said. ``He was so happy to be playing on such a beautiful instrument. He was just like a kid in a candy store.''
Doug Leverich's repertoire ran to jazz and its improvisational opportunities, but he did not tamper with Ludwig van Beethoven. As he submitted to harrowing chemotherapy sessions during the three months he struggled with his lymphoma, he spent time in September at the Stanford University Medical Center. When he discovered the grand piano in the multi story solarium, he made it his own concert hall.
As Beethoven's ``Pathetique'' sonata filtered up, the children and young adults and parents began to line its several balconies. For 25 minutes he played, more slowly than she had remembered, said his mother, who stood by in case he weakened.
``When he finished, the applause was deafening,'' she said. ``People were just amazed that this kid dressed in hospital bedclothes, hooked to an IV pole with five bags hanging on it, had played that beautifully.''
Doug Leverich's September chemo sessions left him strong enough to continue his therapy on an outpatient basis, and he was willing to endure the most aggressive treatments, said his mother, who stopped work when her son became ill.
``He really thought that he was going to lick this,'' said Sutton, his old English teacher who spent hours discussing the research paper he had written for her. He had set out to prove that the painter Titian was the greatest of Renaissance masters, and did, to her satisfaction, she said.
When Danielle Igra, Saratoga High's theater director, gathered students at the Little Theatre to tell them of Doug Leverich's death, their tears soon turned to laughter, to ``Doug stories,'' she said. He wanted them to celebrate his life, not his death.
They are determined to paint a mural for its blank outside wall and to produce the play he wrote, ``Back Light,'' a parody about the students who helped Igra and her ever-present teaching assistant, Doug Leverich, make their acting home come to life.
Published Friday, November 21, 1997, in the San Jose Mercury News.
12/30/96 Doug, Glen, Nicci, Lyle and Janet
Sent to the list by Janet....
Today was the memorial celebration of Doug at his old high school. I wanted to share with all of you the words spoken by his former drama teacher. . . .
"I have been honored with the daunting task of representing the faculty of Saratoga High, and perhaps the 'teacher's' perspective of Doug, but as he had such a richly multi-faceted life I cannot presume to represent his teachers, any more than a single one of his friends could speak for the many groups and activities that Doug enlivened with his presence.
Prior to researching this piece, the most contact I had with Doug's academic teachers was their perpetual lament that he was spending too much time in the theatre to fulfill his potential and use his talent in his other subjects. I did have Doug in 5 classes: 2 years of stage tech, 2 years of drama, 5 productions, and a semester of teacher's assistantship. I have no doubt that he spent more time with me and in the theatre than with his family or on his other subjects.
I heard a disturbing rumor that as a freshman, Doug had plans to become a scientist or engineer. I'm certainly glad he took leave of his senses and decided to pursue theatre instead. We in the arts welcomed his technical skill, especially with sound system and video setup. A number of people thought we should put together a video scrapbook in Doug's memory, but the only one who could have engineered such a project would have been . . . Doug.
Doug's English teachers were also impressed by his analytical skills as well as his volubility in writing. Creativity and reflection characterized his work. Although one teacher was startled by some of his journal writes; I think he just wanted to make sure she was paying attention. To his credit, Doug's comments on other students' writing while he was a TA showed his own thoughtful attention.
As a musician Doug's natural aptitude was complemented by a willingness to dive into any challenge. An accompanist for the jazz choir, he embraced and excelled in new styles of music, and when suddenly called upon to sing, Doug jumped right in. Doug's enthusiasm and divergent thinking sparked many innovative ideas and schemes, from a new way to approach a piece of music to a creative fund-raiser to a money laundering scheme to support technical theatre.
Doug's sense of exploration enhanced his character development. He delved deeply into his characters and his own portrayal. During his first production under my direction, I could hardly get him to project his lines past the first row, but he gave life to the character he played - including a detailed history and rather complex relationship with his horse. This combination of insight and humor characterized Doug's work: in his play Backli ght all the characters' names are symbolic and aspects of a giant inside joke; few of us escaped lampooning in that piece.
Backlight represents Doug's initial foray into directing, for which he showed strong aptitude and which he continued to study at UCLA. Doug showed a kindness and humanity foreign to most directors. I remember with what patience he directed a piece from the Glass Menagerie in which his scene group included a mentally and physically challenged student and a foreign exchange student. Recently having met Doug's uncle, Tennessee Williams' biographer, I have begun to understand why Doug was so passionate about directing that piece.
Along with directing, Doug told me that he had toyed with the idea of teaching. I had praised his work with the new techs; it is much more difficult to help peers learn a skill than it is to show them how to do something, or do it for them. Again, Doug was supportive and encouraging; he even tried to help an actor get over her fear of heights by talking her through the traumatic experience of being stuck on the top of the ladder. She is still afraid of heights, but now has a sense of humor about it. Doug reminded us all to laugh often at him, often at ourselves.
Our tears turned to laughter as we sat around telling Doug stories. It's amazing how many of the repeatable ones involve Doug pouncing and tackling in bear hugs and hilarity. It is ironic that with all Doug's impressive work in music, his vocal teacher said that one of her most quintessential memories of Doug is him running around arms flailing playing tag on the green in England. And after all of Doug's hours and energy in theatre, I can best visualize him in an eclectic ensemble of backwards wig, iridescent cape and floral muumuu designed to break the ice of working with a shy scene partner. If these memories do not jibe with the more pristine images his other teachers may retain, I feel sorry that you didn't get to see this side of Doug.
It seems fitting that we have gathered here, where Doug spent so much of his time. His handiwork is present in the lighting instruments, risers, and platforms- the literal foundation of this place. As we scrambled like maniacs, 3 days before opening night, to finish the set and make the theatre presentable and put together some sort of fitting production for Doug it occurred to me, that even though I don't really believe in an afterlife, somewhere out there, Doug is having a good laugh."
Janet and Doug at UCLA - 3/97
Lyle, Janet, Doug and Glen 8/28/97
Janet tells Doug stories to our group...
Thank you Matt, and all of the rest of you in my extended "family." My heart IS broken and always will be, I know that now. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to share some fun Doug stories with you too. It's the only way I can deal with this.
Doug was more than just creative. Quite a sense of humor, too. He loved his Monty Python and Star Trek movies and was quite the ladies man too, with a great tall, slim physique. When in high school he played JV football, until a bike injury stopped all that (that's when he was sneaking out at age 14 to meet a girl at 2am in the dark and went over his handlebars- - phone call from sheriff's dept. "ma'am, we have your son here . . . ") After that is when he started being in all the school plays. He told me not that long ago (October was a big sharing month for the 2 of us) about his antics during the last h.s. musical he was in, called "Rags" (sort of a sequel to "Fiddler on the Roof"). He played 2 roles and did the tech, too. His main character didn't appear til act 2, but during act 1's ensemble numbers, he had to be a behind-the-curtain LOUD voice of the chorus to carry the tune. He told me in Oct. one thing I didn't know - while he was singing at the top of his lungs in those numbers - he was just wearing boxer shorts and socks while dancing around with ALL the girls who also were off stage singing. (they were supposed to all be standing still in costume). Must have driven the director nuts!
Just had to share something showing the fun side of him; makes me smile a little through the tears. I Never knew what he'd be up to next. . . luv, janet in CA
And Hugh tries to help Janet... "But how could anyone forget about my Doug? It just doesn't seem right. None of this does."
Exactly, dear Janet. And that is why they will always remember Doug. You, your family, Doug's friends and acquaintances, and indeed we, the members of the cyberfamily have suffered an enormous loss with Doug's passing. But one thing that will not be lost is his memory, which will remain as long as we live. That is one thing you can count on.
Love, Hugh (who is sitting here reflecting instead of marking exam papers written by people of Doug's age)
"Grief fills the room of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me. Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words. Remembers me of all his gracious parts, Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form: Then I have reason to be fond of grief."
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616: King John (1591-8)