“Bob Levy” in Memoriam June 17, 1942 – May 17, 2022

By Alessio Fasano

Robert Allen “Bob” Levy was a passionate advocate who fought for the rights of people with celiac disease decades before the words “gluten-free” entered the lexicon. His first passion was creating—and especially eating—gourmet, gluten-free food, and the Baltimore Orioles came a close second. My favorite memories of Bob and Ruth Levy include eating Maryland blue crabs, seasoned with Old Bay of course, before driving to Baltimore to watch the Orioles play baseball. His third passion was sharing high quality cuisine and travel with individuals on the gluten-free diet.

I founded the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1996, and Bob and Ruth were instrumental in helping us start the first celiac center in the United States. Bob was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1995. With his input and that of other patients, our medical care team learned about the day-to-day difficulties faced by people newly diagnosed with celiac disease. In those days, it was not even recognized as a rare disease, and many doctors thought it did not exist in the United States or was limited to a very small number of children.

Bob had a phenomenal partner in his wife Ruth, and they founded Bob and Ruth’s Gluten Free Dining and Travel Club in 1998. They operated their enterprise, which took travelers on safe, gluten-free travels all over the world, for more than 25 years. I joined Bob and Ruth on several of their cruises in the mid 1990s and saw firsthand how he advocated for a separate, dedicated, gluten-free kitchen. On a ship that fed thousands of passengers, Bob was able to secure safe, gluten-free dining for the 70 people in our much smaller group. When Bob was advocating for safe eating for people with celiac disease, he was a force to be reckoned with.

It was completely natural, therefore, to turn to Bob when I was writing Gluten Freedom with Susie Flaherty and others, to talk about the challenges of traveling and dining well on the gluten-free diet. Bob was a great storyteller, and he kindly shared his story about eating purple bread made from black and white rice flour while on a boat trip in China. His advice about “Getting Around the World Gluten-Free” still resonates today with tips for being prepared and eating safely in airports, on planes and cruises, and at resorts and hotels.

People who undertake the gluten-free diet today, whether it is for medical necessity or other reasons, owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Bob, his wife Ruth, and other pioneers in the celiac community. Nearly 25 years later, our celiac center exists because of Bob’s valuable input in those early years. My condolences go out to Ruth and their children Kim, Jill and Alyssa, and I applaud the continuation of Bob and Ruth’s vision as it is recreated for the newest generation of gluten-free diners and travelers.

October 3, 2022