Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: Brother's book recounts last, best year

Gary Levi crossed the finish line in 2012, ending a 55-year race that he ran with his brother at his side. Now, Allen Levi has written a book that tells the story of a season of cancer and a brother who thought deeply but spoke simply.

I never had a brother, but if I had, I pray that we would have shared a relationship that began with a paper route in midtown and ended in the woods of a family farm in Harris County.

You may know Allen as that fascinating fellow who put aside his law books and went on the road as a troubadour, who then after 18 years abruptly left the stage to serve as a probate judge.

Gary, his slightly younger brother, was just as quirky. In his lovely little book, Allen introduces a forester, a missionary who smuggled Bibles into China, an amateur magician, a banjo player, a beekeeper and a paraglider. He read to grade school children and was a one-man welcoming party every morning at Harris County High School.

"Into every endeavor he undertook, he saw the kingdom of God," Allen wrote.

"The Last Sweet Mile" can be ordered at It describes private moments that followed the day Gary met the brain tumor that would take his life in 2012. Allen calls that time the best year of their lives.

I've heard Allen perform many times, and I always wonder how he writes lyrics appropriate for that night only. He seldom sings those songs again, yet he pours his soul into every verse.

The last time I heard him, he sang about Gary, a moving song he first performed at the Springer with his brother somewhere in the darkness of the theater.

This book is more than a song. It's a textbook about dying. Cancer is never far from our family circles, and Allen reminds us that it's tragic to be hopeless and healthy to be sad. He also talks about crazy things we miss after we've lost someone.

He courageously writes about the day they let Gary die. Even more moving is his description of their front-porch comrades digging Gary's grave, then going back to cover it up.

Allen and Gary's father, A.C., sent me the book. He said Allen asked him to find me. As for you, you should find the book.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at