LEVY, MICHAEL R. (1946 ~ ). The following is a biography for journalist and Texas Monthly founder Michael R. Levy.
Michael R. Levy was born in Dallas on May 17, 1946. His parents were Florence and Harry Levy. Florence’s parents immigrated to America from Hungary. She died in 2009 at the age of 95. Harry immigrated from Poland with his mother, father (who was a blacksmith who fought in the Polish army) and sister, and owned and ran a small plumbing repair business, Harry Levy Plumbing in Dallas. Harry was a Master plumber, the highest certification from the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, and was proud to have been able to maintain the license until his death in 2005 at the age of 93. Both Florence and Harry had many relatives lost in the Holocaust. Mike says his parents taught him that “…if you really do want anything of significance in life, you must work very, very hard.”
Mike graduated with The Great Class of 1964 at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas. Ludlow North, his English teacher for four years who was much like the Robin Williams character in the “Dead Poets Society,” instilled in him “an appreciation for the printed word, for reading.” He also was a graduate in the Class of 1968 at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (where he owned and operated a booking agency for bands for campus parties and events) and in the Class of 1972 at the University of Texas School of Law. During his college years Mike worked summers for the Dallas County Sheriff’s office as a jailer and for Yellow Cab of Dallas driving taxis. He also worked for United Press International’s Dallas bureau as a copy boy and as a freelance UPI reporter while going to college in Philadelphia. Following college, he worked for Philadelphia magazine, and while in Law School in the Texas State Senate for the late Senator Oscar H. Mauzy.
At St. Mark’s, Mike received one of the three major school awards for graduating seniors, The School Flag, for founding the literary magazine The Marque. He was named a St. Mark’s 1994 Distinguished Alumnus, and served on the school’s Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2005. With the emotional and financial support of his parents, Mike founded TEXAS MONTHLY in 1973 and was its publisher until 2008, during which time period the magazine had a total readership of 2,500,000 and was considered one of the best in the country. In 1999 Mike received from the Magazine Publishers of America the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the magazine industry’s highest honor which recognizes a leader for significant and long-standing contributions to the publishing industry. When he left the board of directors of the MPA in 2008, Mike was second in seniority. In 2020 Mike was inducted into the Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame. In 2003 he received the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. In 1984 he was selected by Esquire magazine as one of the honorees in the Esquire Register of Outstanding Americans Under Age 40. In 1989 Mike was honored as the recipient of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Award for Excellence in Media. In 1994 Mike received the Austin Board of Realtors Most Worthy Citizen Award. In 1996 he was awarded the Planned Parenthood of Dallas and Northeast Texas Katherine Ripley Award for Print Media. In 1998 Mike was selected as the first recipient of the Travis County Medical Society’s Community Citation for Distinguished Service Award. Mike has given 10.75 gallons to the Travis County Medical Society’s Blood & Tissue Bank. In 2006 Mike received the Bookend Award from the Texas Book Festival. And in 2004 he received the City & Regional Magazine Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mike is a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas where he was Bar Mitzvahed and confirmed, and Temple Beth Shalom in Austin. One of the life forces that gave Mike direction was at Temple Emanu-El, where he heard the legendary Rabbi Levi Olan preach that “if you have the ability to make a difference, and you choose not to, it’s wrong. You could even call it a sin.” Mike started TEXAS MONTHLY with a commitment to make a difference in Texas with its journalism and its support in the non-profit arena.
Mike has served on the Board of Visitors for the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center since 1985, and was made a senior member in 2003. At The Anderson, Mike was instrumental in establishing a dedicated fund for research on breast cancer prevention and genetics and in developing the “Making Cancer History” brand.
Mike also is a member of the State Bar of Texas and is a life member of the University of Texas Ex-Students’ Association, the Leadership Circle of Communities in Schools/Central Texas, The University of Texas Chancellor’s Council, the Tuesday Club of Austin, and the Friends of the Texas State Cemetery (where he eventually will be an eternal member of that most distinguished community, allowing people to take advantage of Mike’s offer to “come dance on my grave” and to read his epitaph: “Nobody ever died from using common sense.”). He also serves on the Board of Visitors for the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Mike served on the public safety task forces for the City of Austin in 2002 and again in 2007-17, and served as vice chair/EMS & Fire on the City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission. Mike served on the committee that oversaw the Austin/Travis County Department of Emergency Medical Services, which his friends, the late Dr. Donald Patrick, a famed neurosurgeon, and widely recognized orthopedic surgeon Joe Abell and general surgeon Bob Tate, and he help founded 1976, and which has been generally recognized for many years as one of the finest EMS systems in the country that other communities have tried to emulate. He completed his training as an Emergency Medical Technician in 1976. Mike also served on the boards of directors of Austin’s PBS station KLRU (Austin City Limits), St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Phoenix House, I Live Here/I Give Here, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Texas Medical Board Work Group on Enforcement Issues, the Texas Book Festival’s advisory board, and the Highland Park West Balcones Area Neighborhood Association. Mike also served on the Scott and White Hospital Board of Visitors, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s training academy advisory board, the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Society’s communications committee, and the 2000 Public Education Integrity Task Force for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. He was a member of the Austin Area Research Organization, the Young Presidents’ Organization and is a current member of the World Presidents’ Organization and the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education
Mike is a trustee of The Meyer Levy Charitable Trust, which was established by his late uncle. The Trust has supported a variety of organizations, including those that feed hungry children; that fund shelters for battered women and orphaned children; that provide new books, art classes, and music lessons to schools; that support breast cancer research and prevention; that grant funds for musicians to have medical care; that provide scholarships for youth to travel to Israel; and that teach astronomy to young students. Specifically, HeartGift brings children from around the world to the U.S. for lifesaving, congenital heart defect surgery. SpineHope helps build pediatric spine programs in under-resourced countries and coordinates charity surgery, in the U.S. and during mission trips abroad, for disadvantaged youth suffering from spinal deformities and complex spine conditions. And Austin Classical Guitar created the curriculum, infrastructure, and teacher training to add guitar to American public schools engaging tens of thousands of kids in performing arts each year.
Mike has three daughters: Rachel Levy Goldberg, Tobin Janel Levy and Mara Elizabeth Levy, and two drop-dead gorgeous granddaughters, Sophia Madaline Goldberg and Lily Blue Goldberg, the daughters of Rachel Levy and Michael Goldberg. Sophia and Lily have stated that they find their grandfather to be “very funny and hilarious,” their mother and father not so much. One reason: He taught his oldest granddaughter how to have a burping contest and she threw up. Mike’s daughters do maintain an on-going list of their father’s character flaws and personality defects, a list which they find it necessary to share with him on a regular basis. He states that he is on a quest for chocolate and coconut meringue pies as good as his mother made
Mike is fascinated by planes and trains. The Union Pacific allowed Mike and TEXAS MONTHLY senior executive editor Paul Burka in the cab of a freight train locomotive from Austin to Taylor, Texas, where they got off and had lunch at Louie Mueller’s, Mike’s favorite barbecue joint, after which they caught a south-bound freight back to Austin.
The Navy’s Blue Angels took Mike up for an hour in an F/A-18C Hornet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv3W8DmgBgk , and the USAF has given him rides in an RF-4 Phantom, a T-38, an F-16 (Mike took 9-G’s and passed out), and in the instructor pilot’s position of a B-52 for a mid-air refueling over Kansas, a simulated bombing run over Denver and a (very!) low level terrain avoidance mission in West Texas. Thanks to his long-time friend and Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, Mike has also “flown” in various Southwest Airlines multi axis 737 flight simulators with digitally generated realistic external views, including the “sim” for the 737-700W series with a heads-up display which gave him the ability to “land” at LAX. (“Grandma in the back most likely was very unhappy with my landing.”). With the high-performance jets, “…when we landed the public information officers of the bases were always there to meet us, amazed I had not lost my cookies. What I never told them was that I had not come close to food or water in the prior 12 hours, although I will admit to having had the dry heaves.”
For its 40th anniversary, Southwest Airlines put together a list called “40 Lessons to Learn from Southwest.” Number 36 was “Listen to advice, then celebrate it. For years, Michael Levy, the founder and former publisher of TEXAS MONTHLY magazine, bugged the Southwest brass about the fuel-saving advantages of putting winglets on aircraft—those little triangles on the ends of wings. In 2003, Southwest took the suggestion. For a month, a set of the new winglets bore Levy’s picture.” In an attempt to bring balance to his fascination with trains and planes, Mike spends many of his Saturday nights at the Greyhound station at IH-35 and Koenig Lane in Austin, “watching the big silver buses roll in, and then back out again, taking their passengers to exotic places one can only imagine.”
When Mike retired from the magazine, he took with him his menagerie of 172 hamsters, who share a very big cage with a very large wheel. And Hortense, the TEXAS MONTHLY trained bear, who retired with Mike. They are very, very close. He accompanies Hortense on his accordion while she plays Coke bottles. Mike is pretty good, but Hortense is really dynamite. The crowds always go nuts. Hortense has perfect table manners. And to assuage any of those terrible thoughts one may have, the relationship between Hortense and Mike is strictly professional and platonic, almost like brother and sister. They are friends. A friendship based on civility, mutual respect and not taking the other for granted. Mike would not be here today were it not for Hortense because she jumped through a burning building to get to a raging river to pull Mike out. And Hortense has given true meaning to Mike's life by teaching him how to play Coke bottles. (Juilliard offered Mike a full scholarship!!!) And her wisdom has been invaluable as Mike tries to make it through lifeitsownself. Finally, women want to know what Hortense uses to get that simply marvelous sheen in her hair.
Mike has some renown in gourmet food circles for his Kraft Dinner and Double Stuffed Oreo casserole. After it comes out of the oven, and while it’s still hot, Mike pours a can of Hershey’s syrup over the top, adds Sprinkles and marshmallows and coconut flakes, lets it cool, slices, and serves. When he introduced it on his Food Channel show, within 24 hours grocery stores all across the country had their shelves depleted of their inventories of Kraft Dinner, Double Stuffed Oreos, Hershey’s syrup, coconut flakes, sprinkles and marshmallows. Mike was very proud.
Finally, Mike claims he is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Prepared, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. And Adorable. And Generous. And Gracious. And very Funny. And amazingly Intelligent and Wise. And perhaps most important: Humble. Did I mention Adorable?