Mary “Molly” Brownell Levey

Mary “Molly” Brownell Levey

1923 – 2009

Molly Belt Levey. Courtesy of Lisa Levey.

Molly, the youngest of Bertha Brownell Belt’s children, studied music after her secondary education, eventually earning a Master of Music at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.

At the completion of her studies, Molly taught at the Huntington College Academy of Music in Alabama and later joined the faculty of Berea College, located in central Kentucky. While Molly taught voice in the music department, her boyfriend Gerrit (Gus) Levey was a chemist and fellow faculty member.

Their first visit to Little Compton was on August 5th, 1952 where the guest book listed Molly Belt followed by Gerrit Levey. The next entry a year later in the summer of 1953, read Molly Levey. The couple had married at Christmas time in Molly’s childhood home in Maryland.

Molly and Gus honeymooned in Alaska, an unusual newlywed destination, which was one of many examples that illuminated Molly’s indomitable spirit. While unassuming and traditional in many ways, and someone who liked to play a supporting role rather than be the center of attention, Molly was simultaneously a woman clearly ahead of her time. 

As was customary at the time, the wedding vows directed wives to honor and obey their husbands. Uncomfortable with the word obey, Molly asked the minister to remove it from her vows. The minister replied that he could not. Several decades later when Molly’s father Rigel passed away, the minister who performed the wedding ceremony attended the memorial service and apologized to Molly, sharing his regret at the decision he had made so many years prior.  

Molly and Gus’ Alaska honeymoon meant sleeping in a yurt, ziplining across one of Alaska’s many lakes and streams, and finding giant king crab. The love of seafood would persist for the rest of both their lives.

Fishing for tautog was a family affair for the Leveys and the mild white fish became a regular part of the family diet, not only during the summer but all year round. While Gus became the fisherman, later mentoring his sons on the art of fishing in the cove, it was Molly who first taught her husband how to fish!

Molly and Gus raised their three sons, Chris, Doug, and Bryan, in Berea, Kentucky but spent every year from late May to late August in Little Compton.

As with her request to strike obey from her vows, Molly beat to her own drummer in caring for her infant children. She chose to breast feed at a time when formula was all the rage for new mothers and the medical staff thought it a strange request. 

Rigel and Bertha added an addition to the house to create a private space apart from the whirlwind of three active, growing boys all summer long. The boys knocked at precisely 11 am, but had to be invited in by Grandma or Grandpa, for elevensies, featuring cold drinks and treats for all.

Rigel, whose avocatoin was writing poetry, penned a poem about the small house addition affectionately called ‘Little Thistle.’

Thistle, thistle, thistle down!
Bertha’s joys do know no bound.
Unlike the down that floats away,
May youur joys have longer stay.
Like the ocean’s rockey stand,
May your joys have farmer stand.

Every year, the annual trip from Kentucky to Little Compton – and back again – was an exercise in logistics. Molly packed each year for the big adventure to Little Compton and one year the family sedan transported 5 family members, luggage, and 3 boats including a kayak, a sailboat and a sport yak. Over multiple years, fish caught throughout the summer, quickly frozen, and stored in a portable freezer, was transported in the family Westfalia camping bus, along with jars of canned vegetables from the overflowing Little Compton garden.

Molly’s love of music was front and center all of her life. While raising her children, she continued to teach, peform and direct, incuding 38 years as the director of youth and children’s choir at Union Church in Berea. In later years, Molly became a member of the choir at the Little Compton Congregtional church and enjoyed participating in the annual church fair (pictured right.)

In addition to singing, Molly loved group dancing and she traveled abroad on multiple occasions with the Berea College Country dancers.   

Daily walks on the beach, afternoon swims at South Shore, cleaning and cooking endless fish, watching the sun rising over tide rock in the nearby cove, collecting mussels for Mussel Boils (also known as Portuguese Clam Bakes), watching her children and grandchildren engage in the many joys of the ocean, Little Compton was a touchstone for Molly all of her adult life.

Lisa Levey

April 2020

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