If life can be measured in milestones, Patricia Lebow counts March 31, 2007, as one for the books.
It was her husband Alan’s 80th birthday. They had just thrown “an incredible, very very special dinner party” at Club Colette in Palm Beach and were driving home on A1A when Alan noted that Patricia’s 60th birthday was coming up that August.
Two big birthdays in one year — what should they do to honor her milestone?
It didn’t seem right to throw another dinner party. They had already traveled around the world. She didn’t want more jewelry.
“What if we send a kid to camp?” Patricia suggested.
The influential local attorney — and founding partner of Broad and Cassel’s West Palm Beach law office — was on the board of the Palm Beach Zoo and knew lots of children couldn’t afford the zoo’s summer camp.
“We could take $6,000 and put it toward sending kids to camp,” she thought aloud. “I could get 60 girlfriends to give me $100 each.”
That’s it. That felt right — a gesture to toast her 60th and make kids happy for one summer.
Then they had dinner with their friends Alvin Malnik and his wife, Nancy.
Malnik, a renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist, is best known for being a lifetime benefactor of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“You’re not going to be 6, you’re going to be 60!” Malnik told Patricia. “You need to raise $60,000!”
Alan scribbled on a napkin: a drawing of Patricia holding the hands of two children and walking through the gate of a castle made of clouds.
Their excitement built with each doodle of swirling clouds and colorful balloons.
They’d make kids’ dreams come true — that could be their gift.
They could find extraordinary children in Palm Beach County who cannot afford college educations or camp or tutoring, and they could help them.
They could give scholarships. They could open doors. They could provide moral support.
Malnik and other friends wrote checks to their charity, Kids’ Dreams.
After one year, after they raised their first $100,000, Alan upped the ante: “My wife is going to raise $1 million!” he declared.
Kids’ Dreams would keep on giving — not for one summer, not for one year, but for always.
Reaching the clouds — and $1 million
Fast-forward 10 years, to Aug. 19, 2017: Patricia Lebow has gathered the board members of Kids’ Dreams around a conference table.
The treasurer, Patrick DiSalvo, a local accountant who has supported Lebow’s charity from the beginning, makes it official: Kids’ Dreams hit that million-dollar milestone in June.
Alan Lebow was right about his wife: Patricia Lebow is so focused and tenacious, she can raise $1 million, give it away and raise some more.
Also at the table are three of the hundreds of children whose lives have been enriched since Alan scribbled that drawing of Patricia and the castle of clouds.
There’s Jessica Dale, whose father lost his construction job in 2008 when the economy collapsed. She and her sister ate peanut butter on a spoon for dinner night after night. Today, she’s a freshman at Florida Atlantic University with dreams of becoming an English teacher. She already has a job offer from Palm Beach County schools when she graduates.
There’s Maria Barrientos, whose family home in Belle Glade was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. She and her parents — Mexican immigrants with middle-school educations who speak no English — became homeless. Today, she’s a junior at Florida State University with top grades and plans to go to law school.
There’s Norman Bain, who lived in a shanty town in the Bahamas called “Crazy Hill” before he came to America in 2011. Now 17, he’s headed for Palm Beach State College and a future in music education. Kids’ Dreams paid for him to join the Young Singers of the Palm Beaches, and paid for private music lessons, too.
As the students tell their stories, Patricia Lebow listens intently. Some board members have tears in their eyes. They all applaud when Norman serenades them in his rich baritone.
So does Amanda Lebow, Patricia and Alan’s daughter, who is listening on the phone from Los Angeles, where she is an agent at the Creative Artists Agency. She serves on the Kids’ Dreams board.
“College was not in my vocabulary. No one in my family even said the word ‘college’ or was bold enough to achieve it,” Norman tells them.
“You helped me discover what I was put on this earth to do.”
Serendipity on the tennis court: “He got me — and I got him”
The blessings from Patricia Lebow’s 60th birthday wish go on and on — a legacy that gives her more joy than any legal victory she’s ever achieved.
Her deepest sorrow is that Alan Lebow is not here to share it.
He died 18 months after they started the charity, of a heart attack, in February 2009.
He is ever-present in her mind, even now — and proof that people can come into our lives and make them bigger, bolder, better.
She remembers the moment they met: “July 2, 1977, at 11 a.m., on the tennis court of the Cricket Club in Miami.”
She was sitting on a step after her tennis lesson. He came out of the locker room wearing his tennis whites.
Her dark hair was cut short then, and as he walked by, Alan put his hand on her head, tousled her hair and said, “Hey, kid, how was your game?”
Patricia Levey stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I’m not a kid! I’m a lawyer!” she said. “I’ll be 30 in August.”
“If you’re 30 years old, you’re old enough to have lunch with me,” responded Alan, who was 50 and had never been married.
They had lunch that day, and that was it.
“It was love at first sight for me,” Patricia says, and their attraction went beyond sight. “He got me — and I got him.”
Alan was more than handsome. He was cultured and charming and recited Shakespeare, Kipling, Byron and Blake from memory.
“On peut vivre beaucoup dans le present, un peu dans l’avenir, mais jamais dans le passe,” he told her the day they met.
His French didn’t impress her — she spoke French, Spanish and Italian, too — but the quote did: One can live much in the present, a bit in the future, but never in the past.
“I was mesmerized by a man who could recite poetry nonstop,” she recalls. “He knew more about English literature than I did … when we traveled to museums, he knew about it all.”
Alan’s friends called him a Renaissance man, full of passion for art and the talent of a performer.
He came from a family of clothiers — his grandfather had founded Lebow Clothes, a leading manufacturing firm, in 1870 — and Alan was a natural-born salesman.
They married a year after they met, and they moved to Palm Beach, where Patricia founded the local branch of Broad and Cassel and became one of the most powerful and influential women in Palm Beach County.
Her professional accomplishments are so vast, she’s been called a “legal legend” by Attorney at Law magazine, and the Daily Business Review awarded her its 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Year after year, she’s been honored as a Florida Super Lawyer and Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend magazine, the Top 100 Florida Lawyers and one of Florida’s 50 most successful women leaders.
“She’s tireless,” DiSalvo says — both in her legal work and her work for Kids’ Dreams. “She lives it and breathes it.”
Credit for her success goes to her work ethic and business acumen.
“There is no substitute for hard work,” she told Attorney at Law magazine. “You cannot cut corners on the time you need to prepare. Second, as a litigator, you need to live a case. You need to go to the scene of an accident or visit the inside of a building that is the subject of a construction defects claim. The best training for a transactional lawyer is some experience in litigation so they can better understand drafting pitfalls and what happens to documents in the real world.”
Credit also goes to her husband, Alan, she says.
“He was extremely supportive of my career, and no one was a better father,” Patricia says. “He was 58 when Amanda was born. She was the miracle of his life.”
Amanda, 31, says her father would be thrilled to know she lives in Los Angeles and works in the film industry — since he loved movies, particularly watching them with her.
“I had a really happy childhood,” Amanda says. “The three of us, we were like a little pack.”
Her parents never relegated her to the kids’ table. “Everything my parents did, they did with me … they taught me the importance of engaging with the wider world, the importance of philanthropy.”
And the importance of supporting each other.
“Yes!” Amanda says. “Cheerleading was a major part of our household.”
“They make us feel good about ourselves”
Cheerleading is also part of Kids’ Dreams — it’s an extended family that helps students navigate that wider world.
A $1,500 check to help pay for college is wonderful, FSU junior Maria Barrientos says — but the emotional support is even more valuable.
“What Mrs. Lebow and Kids’ Dreams gave us was more than a scholarship,” says Maria, who was mentored by Evelyn Hopkins of Florida Crystals. “They support our dreams. They make us feel good about ourselves and what we’re doing. When I’d face a challenge, Mrs. Lebow would tell me, ‘You can do it!’ That means the world to me.”
With board members such as DiSalvo, and mentors from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Crystals and other local companies, Kids’ Dreams supports the whole person, Patricia Lebow says.
“If we can identify children who have shown honesty, perseverance, resilience, creativity and service to others in the face of incredible personal challenges — those children are extraordinary. Making their dreams come true — that’s my life.”
Patricia Levey Lebow was born with the philanthropy gene.
Her father, Burton Levey, a lawyer and real-estate executive in New Haven, Connecticut, “always wanted to see what he could do for other people,” including passing out heaters one winter during a snowstorm.
Patricia and her brother, John, established a charity fund in his memory and to honor their mother, Diane, who’s 97 and lives in Jupiter, in their home town of New Haven.
Burton Levey’s father died when he was just 12, so he grew up knowing what it was like to struggle — and knowing how a helping hand can change a person’s life.
Patrick DiSalvo knows that, too.
“I was born in Sicily and came over here when I was 5. We were what you would call dirt poor,” he says. “My dad borrowed money to get here and worked as a janitor. I never forgot where I came from, and Kids’ Dreams is one way to pay back. We look for people who need the financial support but also are giving of themselves.
“And we hope to leave a trail of scholars who will pay it forward.”
“I look at my parents’ love, and I aspire to that”
Life is for the present, and a little bit for the future, as Alan Lebow once quoted so lyrically.
Patricia just hit another milestone birthday — 70 — and decided her present and future will belong to her passions: The law, her clients, her family … and Kids’ Dreams.
After 34 years of managing Broad and Cassel’s West Palm Beach office, she has turned the firm’s administrative reins over to a colleague, and she’ll work full time as a lawyer, specializing in trust and estate work.
She’ll also welcome a son-in-law into her family.
Amanda is engaged to David Distenfeld, a movie executive. They will marry in December at The Breakers in Palm Beach.
Seeing her parents’ marriage “was a huge foundation for my relationship with David,” Amanda says. “I look at my parents’ love, and I aspire to that.”
Life moves forward — and, yet, inspiration is forever, whether it comes in moments or milestones.
The gift of opening a student’s eyes to opera or art, the gift of telling him or her “you can do it!”, the gift of passion merged with purpose … all these things are the intangible but immortal gifts Patricia Levey Lebow herself received — and those she passes on to the children of Kids’ Dreams.
When they recite Shakespeare — as they do, onstage at the Kravis Center once a year, as part of an award named for Alan — she can’t help but hear his voice, too.
“He was the wind beneath my wings,” she says.
And now, because of their dream, hundreds of students have wings, too.