Longtime Bellevue teacher dies after mysterious illness

Levine would write trip reports with photos and detailed descriptions of the birds he saw. -
Levine would write trip reports with photos and detailed descriptions of the birds he saw.
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Barry Levine, a longtime Bellevue educator, died Dec. 30 at the age of 66 after a short battle with a mysterious illness he picked up abroad.

Levine, who taught at Newport High School for 20 years before retiring in 2012, found his passion in teaching biology and ecology even when he wasn't in a classroom.

His partner of 27 years, Kate Tillotson, said teaching was never really a choice for Levine.

"He was a natural teacher," she said. "His vocation and avocation were the same thing. Teaching people about biology and ecology was his life."

He used this passion to become a world-class birder (bird-watcher is not the preferred nomenclature) and traveled around the world to pursue his hobby.

In fact, Levine was birding in a remote area of India when he began to feel unwell.

"He was only there for three weeks and felt OK for the first two," Tillotson said. "That last week he started feeling really sick and said he might come home. I thought, 'wow, this is really serious.'"

Levine made it home but was very ill. The couple decided to let him go on Dec. 28. Levine died two days later. The cause of death is being determined by doctors and Centers for Disease Control officials.

"He thought it might have been leech bites he got, but doctors don't think that was it," Tillotson said. "The theory now is it was something from a mosquito. My sister has been working with the doctors on this, she was great."

While doctors work to determine the cause of Levine's death, people remember him for the quick-witted, movie-loving educator he was.

Levine was able to make friends just about wherever he ended up, including befriending the entire staff of a bubble tea shop in the University District of Seattle (much to the surprise of his wife).

A longtime friend, Richard Struve, met Barry and Kate on an Audubon birding trip in 1990 with his late wife.

"We got along so well we were probably annoying other birders with our constant talking," Struve said. "He was very smart and had a very dry wit. He loved wordplay."

Former colleagues, fellow birders and friends have posted photos and memories of Barry Levine on a Facebook page set up by birding friend Isadora Wong (who interacted with him on a birding mail list called Washington Tweeters).

Levine was born in Queens, New York on April 16, 1950. He and Tillotson shared a birthday, so the two used that as a relationship celebration day.

He studied at Southern Oregon University and started his career teaching in southern Oregon, then Kitsap County, Washington before arriving in Bellevue in 1985. He taught at Highland Middle School for five years, Sammamish High School from 1990 to 1992 and then Newport High School from 1992 to 2012.

While at Newport, Levine twice led students on extracurricular trips to Costa Rica to study biology and birds. In 2005 he earned an Audubon teaching award for his efforts.

According to Tillotson, the love of birding was a near spur of the moment decision.

"We were in the Everglades and saw all these big, beautiful birds," she said. "We were sharing a cheap pair of binoculars and I said to him 'this is fun, we should do this more often.' I don't have a science background, I'm in social work, so he was excited and it went from there."

That was nearly 30 years ago. Besides his love of teaching and birding, Levine was well known as a movie buff. He began to get passes to first-run movies in Seattle, and would sometimes hand those out to students who answered science trivia questions.

Struve said Levine actually reviewed movies. Tillotson said students at Newport High School who went on to the movie industry would send him more passes.

Levine used what precious free time he did have to play rhythm guitar and sing in a rock band called "The Guise" and coached Newport's record setting badminton team.

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