Dr. Theodore Levitas didn’t set out to become a dentist when he enrolled at Emory University in 1941. After interrupting his studies to serve in World War II, he planned to pursue a career in journalism. But two cousins who were Atlanta dentists persuaded him to accept a position in Emory’s Dental School. That decision launched a career that spanned six decades and earned Levitas numerous honors.
To the children he treated and their parents, he was “Dr. Teddy Bear.”
“He was a gentle, kind person who could relate to anyone, and he was especially wonderful with children,” said Miriam Strickman Levitas, his wife of 40 years. “He was able to get the attention of children and make them feel comfortable. He would whisper in their ears, sing little songs to them, things that he knew would be calming. My husband was able to make the experience of going to the dentist possible for so many children, especially those with medical and behavioral issues who may not otherwise have had access to dental care. He was ‘Dr. Teddy Bear’ to them.”
Dr. Theodore Clinton Levitas, 92, died Sept. 15. He was born in Atlanta on April 9, 1924, to Louis J. and Ida G. Levitas. He graduated from Boys High in 1941, where he was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. He went on to Emory on a journalism scholarship and was editor-in-chief of the Emory Wheel.
Levitas’ first experience in health care was as a Navy pharmacist’s mate aboard the USS Hoggatt Bay in the Pacific. He returned to Emory after the war and received a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1950.
In 1959, Levitas began to concentrate his practice on dentistry for children. In 1966, after attending Emory Dental School part-time while continuing to treat patients, he was awarded a Master of Science in Dentistry degree with a concentration in pediatric dentistry. For the next 45 years, Levitas was a recognized leader in children’s dentistry, serving as president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Society of Dentistry for Children, as well as of the Southeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry (which holds an annual lecture in his name), the Northern (Georgia) District Dental Society, and Atlanta’s Thomas P. Hinman Dental Society.
He was a frequent lecturer on children’s dentistry and contributed numerous articles for dental literature. For the last several decades of his career, Levitas devoted himself to the care of children with cognitive and physical disabilities.
He was a longtime member of the staff of Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital, now Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and was the first dentist to become president of the hospital’s medical-dental staff.
Throughout his career, Levitas provided free dental care one morning a week at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, where he was chief of staff for many years and chief emeritus beginning in 1998. He devoted a substantial portion of his practice to serving Medicaid patients and other children who did not have easy access to quality dental care. His multitude on professional honors included the Georgia Dental Association’s award of merit in 1991 for “outstanding service to the association and exceptional service to the wider world of dentistry.”
Levitas was active in Atlanta’s Jewish community as a member of the Ahavath Achim congregation and a leader in the Anti-Defamation League, AZA/B’nai B’rith and the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his brother Elliott of Atlanta, a former Georgia legislator and U.S. congressman; children Steven Levitas of Raleigh and Asheville, N.C., Leslie Levitas of Sacramento, Calif., Dr. Tony Levitas of Atlanta, Andrew Strickman of Atlanta, Dr. Brian Strickman-Levitas of Atlanta, Craig Strickman-Levitas of Atlanta, and Deron Strickman-Levitas of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.; and four grandchildren.
A funeral service was held Sept. 16. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Ahavath Achim Synagogue or the Ben Massell Dental Clinic.