Last member to run 150-year-old Norwich family business dies aged 74

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Rosemary Salt retiring as secretary of the Friends of Norwich Museums pictured at No

Rosemary Salt (right) as secretary of the Friends of Norwich Museums pictured at Norwich Castle ahead of her retirement in 2010 with (left) Leona Levine, who also retired as treasurer the same year - Credit: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Specialist silversmith Leona Levine, who has died aged 74, was the last member to run a Norwich family business started almost 150 years ago. 

She and her late brother, Desmond, ran Henry Levine & Co in London Street for almost 20 years until the partnership ended and the shop closed in February 1993. 

Leona and her late brother Desmond Levine outside the London Street shop

Leona and her late brother Desmond Levine outside the London Street shop - Credit: ARCHANT

She then continued on her account as a silversmith, including about 15 years in Upper St Giles at Zelley Jewellers. 

Her great-grandfather Joseph, who fled religious persecution in Latvia, then part of the Russian Empire, came to Britain in the mid-1840s. His son, Louis, opened shops selling antiques, silver and jewellery in Cromer and Norwich from 1865. 

Leona Rachael Beatrice Levine was born in March 1947 to Ann and Henry Levine, who had moved the jewellers and antique business from Cromer to Castle Street, Norwich, in 1955. 

On a visit to the 1961 Royal Norfolk Show, the 14-year-old heard that a new Young Farmers’ Club was to be launched. Even at such a young age, she became a founder member of Norwich YFC. Representing Norfolk in Anglia TV’s annual Christmas quiz, she finished third, the only girl, of 10 finalists in 1968. 

Her election as Norwich chairman in 1970 was a fitting tribute to her enthusiasm and also for her hockey skills. 

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She was a keen horse rider and even won a class at the 1960 annual camp of the South Norfolk Pony Club at Mulbarton. 

After leaving Norwich High School, she wanted to farm and spent a year at Church Farm, Spixworth, working for the Cook family before studying dairying at Northampton Farm Institute. 

To gain further experience, she went to Israel and worked on a 3,000-acre kibbutz milking a high-yielding Friesian dairy herd above the Sea of Galilee near the Jordan border. She had to cut short her planned year’s stay, returning home just hours before the Six Day War started on June 5, 1967. Her kibbutz was badly bombed in the heavy fighting in the mountainous region. 

Determined to gain more experience she won an international YFC travel award to north America in 1969. In Canada, her riding skill was essential when she worked on a 2,000-acre ranch using horses to herd cattle. She spent four months on a 720-acre tomato farm in California, incidentally, learning to drive a tomato harvester, and travelling 12,000 miles by Greyhound bus for just $132 (around £95). 

An opportunity to see farming behind the Iron Curtain, again with YFC, took her to Poland in 1970 where her great-grandfather had been born. 

Two years later in 1972, she visited India on another YFC programme travelling more than 5,000 miles on 20 different types of transport. A highlight was a meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandi with fellow Norfolk member Janet Love, now Mutimer. 

She maintained close connection with the farming community becoming silversmith to Aylsham Agricultural Show Association and an authority and adviser on the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association’s extensive collection of trophies. 

A keen supporter of the Women’s Food and Farming Union, she was a long-serving treasurer to the Norfolk branch. It was one of the first to be founded in 1979 and was wound up in 2013. 

Always a generous supporter of charities and good causes, she liked people and had an extensive network of friends and gave generously of her time. She was a former treasurer of the Friends of Norwich Museums, which celebrates its centenary this year, and was secretary to the Wulugu Project, which is a Norfolk-based charity supporting education in communities in northern Ghana. 

She enjoying sailing on the Broads and was a former commodore of the Norfolk Punt Club and joint commodore of Frostbites with her partner, Bruce Thompson. 

Her brother Desmond predeceased in 2008 and she is survived by her long-standing partner Bruce. 

A funeral will take place on Friday, July 16 at 11am at the Jewish cemetery, Bowthorpe Road, Norwich.

- To view all obituaries and tributes join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.