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Where did that phrase come from - He ain't heavy, he's my brother
Stan St. Clair

 Used as a reminder of the common roots, heritage and bonds of all mankind, this was made famous in modern times by a wildly popular ballad written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, and originally recorded in 1969 by Kelly Gordon at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, later recorded by the Hollies, Neil Diamond and Elton John.  

But this phrase goes back much further. It was first used in print in 1884 by Rev. James Wells in his children’s book, Parables of Jesus (from Luke 15:1-6). He makes a comparison of the shepherd carrying his lost sheep back to the fold to a little girl carrying a big boy who was asked if she were not weary from her load, to which she surprisingly replied: “No: he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.”

The story was retold in 1909 by Frank Tappan Bayley. In 1918, American philosopher Ralph Waldo Trine published “The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit,” using a young Scottish lass straining to carry a younger lad. When someone commented to her about how heavy a load she had, in this version she replied: “He’s na heavy. He’s mi brither.”

Apparently the tale was older than all of the references.

Roe Fulkerson, the first editor of Kiwanis Magazine, used the saying as the title of an article in 1924. The December 1941 edition of the Louis Allis Messenger had a black-and-white sketch of a boy carrying his brother with the caption “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” 

This all resonates with me on several levels. First, because it’s a message so badly needed in today’s prejudicial society. Second, because of my Scottish ancestry. Third, my long affiliation with Kiwanis, an organization which helps youth develop into responsible citizens, and aids disabled and underprivileged children. And finally, since I have visited Boys Town in Omaha and seen all of the good which has been accomplished there by love of children.

So remember, when someone isn’t like you, try to be understanding of who they are and the road they have traveled.


If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.