The Boots, the Hat, the Man, the Legend
Phi Kappa Alpha Honors “Mr. Maxwell”
Seldom is a club sponsor held in, well, almost reverence. But that's how Phi Kappa Alpha alums talk about James Hadley Maxwell, or "Mr. Maxwell," as they still refer to him. That respect was demonstrated at his funeral by the large number of club alumni who attended and the remarks they have made in person and on Facebook.
Maxwell, who passed away June 6, 2016, at his home near Enville, Tennessee, had sponsored the social club for approximately 25 years. As club sponsor, Mr. Maxwell was always there—meetings, Charge, Riverboat, soapbox derby, Hootenanny and Makin' Music practices.
"All the trips, staying up all night, he did that because he loved us and he wanted to make sure we were OK," said Jarred Clayton, 2003-04 club president.
Clayton also spoke of Mr. Maxwell's leadership style. "When I was elected president, he came to me and said, ‘You're going to make mistakes and I'm here to help you learn from those mistakes,'" Clayton said. "At meetings, you would have never known Mr. Maxwell was there because he was so quiet—unless you were the president. He was always there at the back watching. He knew I'd make mistakes, but I knew he had my back."
Craig Evans, minister of the Spring Hill Church of Christ and a PKA alum, wrote, "Mr. Jim and Ms. Estelle became great mentors and encouragers in my life. He was filled with wisdom and encouraging words and she is a smiler and encourager."
Evans' admiration extended to the Maxwell's boots. "He had the greatest boots: they were taupe-colored lizard ropers," Evans said. "I always wanted those boots...and I bought some that looked as close to them as I could find."
Danny Sorrell, PKA president 1984-86, considered Maxwell a father figure. "He was one of the most humble, kind, and unselfish servants I have ever known," he wrote. "Mr. Maxwell really showed me what it means to love and to serve and to place others' needs above your own."
Brittany Hart (2011) said "Mr. Maxwell had the ability to warm up a room just by being present...He really should have spelled his name ‘Gem' because that is what he was. I adored him. When my grandfather died, he came to sit with me at the funeral home for over four hours—after he'd been at work all day."
Financial aid director Summer Judd assumed PKA sponsorship duties in 2009. As Mr. Maxwell's personal choice for the job, she wants to follow his example and be a source of support for current and future Bulldogs.
"He was my hero," Summer said. "He was invested in us and our lives." The advice he gave her when he passed the torch was "to be there for them, treat them like your own, listen and help them when they need you," she said. "I have huge boots to fill and I pray that I am making him proud," Judd said.
Maxwell had worked at FHU as an academic counselor and director of testing from 1981 until his retirement in 2011. He held an A.A. degree from Freed-Hardeman College, a bachelor's from Colorado State University and a master's from New Mexico State University. He had also been in the United States Air Force, serving at Lowry AFB in Colorado, Loring AFB in Maine, and Walker AFB in Roswell, New Mexico.
A man of many talents, Maxwell created stained glass windows, kept bees, drove a semi-truck, laid carpet, gardened and did construction. But the thing he did best was serve others—family, friends, co-workers, students in general and PKA members in particular. His influence lives on because, as one member said, "Legends never die."
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Estelle Parrish Maxwell, of Enville, Tennessee; two daughters, Melissa Maxwell of Enville; and Cari Rowe, her husband Marty, and a grandson, Chase Rowe, all of Tupelo, Mississippi; and a sister, Carolyn Wright of Kerrvile, Texas.
Members of PKA initiated the James and Estelle Maxwell Endowment Fund to provide funds for the social club's various projects and a scholarship honoring the Maxwells. The fund was announced in 2003 on the occasion of PKA's 65th anniversary as an honor—and surprise—for the Maxwells.
Contributions to the Maxwell Fund may be made to Freed-Hardeman University, 158 East Main Street, Henderson, TN 38340.