Bridge over untroubled waters

A Boston hygienist's hobby takes her on cruises around the globe, playing and teaching bridge.

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by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

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A career in dental hygiene has never allowed anyone to travel worldwide, mingle with celebrities, and live a good part of life being waited on hand and foot. But a Boston hygienist's hobby allows her to do just that.

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Are you jealous? I am. Talking to RoseAnne Levinson is like turning the pages of one of those glittering novels about life among the rich and famous.

Do you yearn to see the Taj Mahal? Have you ever dreamed of a cruise through the Panama Canal? Is Australia on your list of "must-go" places?

Levinson has been to all those places, thanks to her hobby - well, call it a life-long obsession - of playing bridge.

Before we get into the juicy details, hold your thoughts for a moment to learn about what else Levinson does.


RoseAnne and Jerry Levinson at an island barbeque in the Maldives.
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She has been a hygienist, off and on, in general and prosthetic practices since 1964, when she graduated with a dental hygiene certificate from the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists in Boston. She also earned a bachelor's degree in management from Lesley College in 1993.

"That was something I'd always wanted to do," Levinson recalls, "but had no opportunity until the '90s. I went to an evening program, completed it in less than two years, and am happy to say I earned a 4.0."


RoseAnne and Jerry Levinson among the elephants in Sri Lanka.
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She used her business degree to work in dental product sales, and later to enter the trade show staffing field. "Hygienists always ask me how I got involved in sales, and I tell them, 'Just open your eyes. The opportunity could be right in front of you.' If I hadn't engaged a patient in conversation one day, I might not have realized his company was developing a dental temperature probe to diagnose periodontal disease. I asked if I could see it, and that was the beginning."

Levinson spent several years lecturing as a clinical specialist for Abiodent, the dental division of Abiomed, maker of the new artificial heart. She then moved on to Playtex Products Inc. to work in the consumer products division. As the professional program director for oral care, she presented Dentax brand toothbrushes, toothpastes, and floss at trade shows. She also worked with Wal-Mart on a public-relations program that provided free dental screenings in a mobile dental unit throughout the southeastern United States.


RoseAnne with her friend, comedian Jonathan Winters, in Vietnam.
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"I was responsible for contacting state dental association directors, their boards, and member dentists to staff the van and partner with us and Wal-Mart to provide greater access to care. It was very rewarding to see the dental van visitors' reactions to the TV monitor as intraoral screenings were performed.

"I wrote the marketing material and scheduled the van. I was even on television in Alabama and Arkansas, promoting the program."

When that job ended, Levinson wondered what to do next. "A lightbulb came on. I knew a number of hygienists who'd worked for me at trade shows, and I decided to start my own staffing company."


RoseAnne with friend, movie star Tab Hunter, in Bali.
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As the owner of PeoplePersons, Levinson hires hygienists who live near large cities to work the booths at dental conventions and trade shows. When time permits, she works at the meetings herself, usually with Susan Ferro at the Prophy Perfect/Curaprox booths.

"It's really a temp agency in a special niche. Temporary staffing at trade shows is a wonderful opportunity for a hygienist to get out of the box and see if she enjoys sales. At least one of my hygienists has moved on to a permanent sales job. It's good for us to see the other side and become more conversant with dental products. Everyone who has used the service has liked it."

For more information about PeoplePersons, visit www.peoplepersons.com.

Now, back to that intriguing hobby of hers ...

How does playing bridge translate into world travel? This is how one hygienist did it.

While Levinson was studying tooth morphology at Forsyth back in 1962, her mother, Harriett Leavitt, was taking her first bridge lesson. As Levinson began her hygiene career, Leavitt opened her first bridge studio. The Leavitt Bridge Club in Marblehead, Mass., near Boston, has been an important part of Levinson's life ever since. She took her first bridge lessons there in 1970, and eventually became a duplicate director, teacher, and co-owner of the club.

"I wasn't sure I was smart enough at first," she recalls, "because bridge is so mentally stimulating and challenging. It's probably the most interesting card game in the world, and it takes your mind off everything. I could play bridge 24 hours a day."

The game, Levinson explains, is like a language, in that proper communication with a partner is what determines how well your game will turn out. "You have to be intelligent. You have to have the time, the desire, and the aptitude to play bridge. If you're willing to spend the time, it's wonderful."

Mother and daughter are certified as directors by the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL). The directors' responsibilities are to oversee the movement of the game and tabulate the results. It's important, Levinson says, to maintain a pleasant manner and smile when making rulings or adjudicating misunderstandings.


RoseAnne directing a bridge game aboard the Crystal Symphony.
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"It's like being a hostess who sets the tone in her home. Ours is a very friendly club, where many bridge partnerships have turned into lifelong friendships."

The players at their club work to accrue master points in sanctioned ACBL duplicate games. The club offers four games and lessons weekly. Typically, there will be more than a dozen tables of four at each session.


RoseAnne and partner playing bridge against her mother, Harriett Leavitt (right), and sister-in-law, Linda Schwartz (left).
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To be successful teaching and lecturing about bridge, Levinson uses the same skills she used as a hygienist. "You need good people skills, a high level of professionalism, and the ability to teach. Just as patients respond to our recommendations if they feel that we care, students will enjoy bridge when they are taught in a clear, concise, and friendly manner."

Levinson's husband, Jerry, is also a certified bridge director. In fact, both Levinson and her mother are now married to men they met through playing bridge.

Leavitt, a Gold Life Master and bridge teacher, was offered a job in the mid-1980s as a bridge teacher on a cruise ship. She cruised a time or two, then recommended her daughter for the job. Levinson immediately said yes and has never looked back.

"When I realized I could combine my love of travel, bridge, and lecturing to take me all over the world, I couldn't believe my good luck. You can imagine what a fabulous opportunity this has been."

Levinson works exclusively for Audrey Grant and her Bridge-at-Sea program on the Crystal and Seabourn cruise lines. On a typical day at sea, Levinson and her husband give a one-hour lesson in the morning and/or oversee a two-hour bridge game in the afternoon. While in port, no bridge is scheduled and they are free to be tourists.

"One of my biggest problems," she admits, "was learning how to eat right and not gain too much weight. There are unlimited five-star meals and 24-hour room service. But with the great gyms aboard, fitness classes, and promenade decks, I make it a point to work off the extra calories."

When their four children were small, the Levinsons would limit themselves to one-week cruises, but now that Jerry is mostly retired, the sky is the limit. They spend about three months of the year at sea, traveling to places like Asia, Africa, Europe, India, the Middle East, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Australia, the Panama Canal, and the Orient. Because they are part of the entertainment staff, the Levinsons rub elbows with other staff members, including experts in travel, history, wine, and food. Celebrity lecturers they've met include Peter Arnett, Buzz Aldrin, Jonathan Winters, Tab Hunter, Maureen McGovern, and Chris Ogden.

"My hobby," Levinson says with great satisfaction, "has taken me all around the world, and I've met the most wonderful people. We've developed special friendships and have invitations to visit Turkey, England, Australia, Scotland - it's just too unbelievable. As long as they'll have me, and as long as I can fit into my clothes, I'll keep my bags packed."

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio. She can be contacted at cseckman @raex.com.

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