Virgil Levinger, 1982—2018

Courtesy of the Levingers
Virgil was known for his sensitivity and kindness, and his musical and culinary skills.  
02/07/2019

Virgil Levinger, an Inverness native known for his quiet generosity, moral convictions and talents in gaming and electronic music that earned him an internet following, died during a seizure on Dec. 14 in his childhood home. He was 36 years old. 

The third youngest of eight children, Virgil lived and worked in West Marin for most of his life. A musician, technology buff and cook, Virgil held numerous jobs, at restaurants, coffee shops, nonprofits and businesses owned by his siblings. Though a series of hardships, including his epilepsy, marked his life, Virgil’s friends and family described him as having an enormous heart, starting in childhood. 

“For holidays, we all got these chocolates, thick Easter bunnies or Santas,” his sister Maggie Beth remembered. “And no one had to share, but Virgil would take the littlest carbon knife and start carving his up, and yell to everyone, ‘Cravings for shavings! Cravings for shavings!’ And we would all come running. That’s just who he was: he loved to share.” 

In their anecdotes about Virgil, generosity was the note struck again and again by family and friends. He stacked coats in the back of his car in case he drove by someone who looked cold; one Thanksgiving, the feast wound up so extravagant that he felt compelled to drive around and pick up homeless people to enjoy the party. He treated his nieces and nephews like adults, teaching them how to use an espresso maker or play piano, and patiently answered all of their questions. 

Margaret Grade, who employed Virgil at her restaurants at Manka’s Inverness Lodge and The Olema, said Virgil “loved to take care of others in a myriad of ways, but most of all, he loved to guide them.” She added, “He could read people, and know what they wanted and what they needed without knowing it.”

Margaret first employed Virgil’s older siblings, who taught him how to forage and sell mushrooms at a young age for Manka’s. After graduating from Tomales High, Virgil wore many other hats—as a bellman, a waiter, an I.T. consultant, a D.J.—for her businesses. She emphasized his intelligence, both socially and intellectually, and called him “particular, and opinionated, and lovable.”

Maggie, who co-owns Wild West Ferments, said her brother was one of the best employees she ever had, due to his integrity “whether anyone was watching, or would ever know the difference.” “He was a very principled person,” she said. “He lived according to a real sense of right and wrong. I think that brought him a lot of suffering, because he was keenly aware of the injustices of the world.”

Jessa Taylor, who recently moved out of West Marin but still works as the development director for the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, was Virgil’s partner for over a decade. Although the two split a few years ago, they remained close. 

During the time that Virgil was with Jessa, Keith Connolly, a lifelong friend of Virgil’s, said he noticed his friend coming out of his shell, dressing up more often and developing his hidden talents. “We lived together on and off so much growing up, and I always kind of dominated the cooking scene, but when Virgil started living with Jessa, he started cooking for her, and got really, really good at it and taught me a lot. I realized he was always secretly good at it,” he said.

He added about Jessa, “A funny thing, when Virgil would introduce her, he would say, ‘This is the love of my life.’ He was super romantic like that, and liked taking on that role.”

After parting ways with Jessa a few years ago, Virgil moved in with his father, Lowell, who goes by the nickname Banana. A member of the rock band The Youngbloods, Banana had moved with his wife, Katherine Hilton, an interior designer, to Inverness in 1970. Banana described his rapport with Virgil and between Virgil and his siblings, many of whom live locally. 

“We are a pretty tight-knit family,” Banana said, describing how Virgil had dinner with him and his second wife, Jane Vait, in Inverness every night. They talked politics and science, both passions for Virgil.

“We had heated discussions about science, medicine, politics, about sociology, the ways of the world, history,” Banana said. “He was self-educated, an avid reader. He didn’t do that well in school. He was much better at educating himself.” 

The political climate of the last few years, he went on, was particularly disturbing to Virgil, who followed national debates closely.

Virgil’s sister Phoebe, who lives in San Diego with her three children, said the constraints placed on Virgil’s life by his epilepsy waxed and waned. If he didn’t have a seizure for a year straight, he could keep his driver’s license; the times when he didn’t have a license were particularly hard in Inverness. 

In recent years, Virgil quit smoking, which for some reason led to more seizures and his doctor advised him to get back on nicotine. “That was really frustrating for him, because he was trying to make a healthy choice,” she said.

Describing one of his first epileptic episodes at home, Phoebe said, “There’s this weird thing that happens before you have a seizure, where you feel like you have to spit,” she said. “And so he opened his window to do that, and then had a seizure and fell out the second story onto a pile of windows on the ground. Somehow he was okay, and after that, we just did all these things to prepare, like we put wood boards across his windows. We were like, ‘We absolutely can’t have Virgil falling out of windows.’”

The onset of epilepsy at age 18 coincided with other trials. He had lost a brother, Seth, in 1997 and he was barely out of high school when his mother died in 2003. His friends and family also described periods of depression. 

Virgil’s music, and his participation in live-action role-playing, brought him particular joy, and in recent years he developed a strong internet following. 

Banana said Virgil knew how to play a host of instruments—piano, guitar, mandolin—and was an expert at electronic music. (His tunes can be found at soundcloud.com/zircon5.) Though Virgil kept his online life separate from his family relationships, his father said he was a “top-notch gamer” and made excellent use of his talent for different voices.  

Using equipment he could set up at home, Jessa said Virgil would broadcast live performances on the internet to audiences of up to 1,000. 

An outpouring of recognition and love came from his online community following his death. “He was so dedicated,” Jessa said. “It was a 24-hour thing,” “He could be at home but also interacting with people that weren’t from West Marin... I think it was really a safe haven, a place of creativity and a life force for him.” 

 

Virgil Levinger is survived by his father, Banana; stepmother, Jane; his siblings Lorenzo, Phoebe, Ezra, Maggie Beth and Hugh; and his half-brother, Woodruff. A memorial service starts at 2 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Toby’s Feed Barn. The community is welcome to share memories and stories in celebration of his life.