Ex-Mayor Maxwell Dies
Former Tulsa Mayor James L. Maxwell, 58, one of only three men to serve four terms as the city’s chief executive and the youngest mayor in Tulsa history, died in an Oklahoma City hospital Thursday of cancer.
Funeral services will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Tulsa’s First Presbyterian Church. Burial will be in the Rose Hill Cemetery under the direction of Stanley’s Funeral Service.
Politically unknown, Maxwell was elected mayor in 1958 at 31. He was re-elected three times but lost in an effort for an unprecedented fifth term in 1966 and again in 1968.
H. F. Newblock served four terms as mayor from 1922 to 1928 and from 1932 to 1934 and Robert LaFortune served four consecutive terms from 1970 to 1978.
In 1979, the former mayor was named director of the transportation division for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and most recently served in that agency’s energy conservation section.
Maxwell had been in failing health for some time. His last public appearance in Tulsa was at the swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Terry Young, the first Democrat elected to the post since Maxwell was defeated. Young attributes his early aspiration the be mayor of Tulsa to his acquaintance with Maxwell.
As mayor, Maxwell either helped plan or started a number of projects that have come to be landmarks in Tulsa. He was the driving force behind the planning and start of the Tulsa Civic Center, headed the effort that resulted in Tulsa’s nationally recognized library system, laid the groundwork for what became the downtown mall, established the city’s urban renewal department, and was the central figure in the work of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission when TMAPC developed the city’s first master plan in 1960.
Most of the bond issues passed to finance the city’s expressway system came during Maxwell’s tenure. He also put a high priority on parks and recreation. While he was mayor, the city acquired the Thomas Gilcrease art collection and the city laid the groundwork for the Gilcrease-Museum, recognized as the finest repository of Western art in the world.
A bachelor, Maxwell was known for his 16 hour days at City Hall and his constant attendance at a wide variety of civic and social events. He gained political start in Tulsa through activities in the local chapter of the U. S. Jaycees and once sought that organization’s national presidency. He served as a national director of that organization.
In later years, he was asked why he went to such great lengths to put in so many public appearances. "My philosophy was that if the citizens wanted their mayor there, I could be there. I love this city, and if I have made any contributions to it, I’m glad that it was while I was young enough and strong enough to do it. It was an education to me."
After leaving the mayor’s office, Maxwell kept his interest in the city, often calling attention to the city’s lack of income. He suggested a sales tax as the only likely way to generate city income. Today, the city government thrives largely because its citizens approved first a 2-cent sales tax for recurring and capital expenses and later a special 1-cent levy devoted to capital needs.
Maxwell, while serving as mayor under the commission form of government, called for the city to change to a strong mayor form, which voters defeated first in 1959, and again in 1969 and 1973. Maxwell, however, continued to push for a change, recommending a metropolitan government to replace the duplicative functions of Tulsa City and County operations.
After losing the mayoral race, he returned to the Maxwell Flower House, a family-owned flower shop founded by his father, W. R. Maxwell. As a businessman, Maxwell was also involved in investments promotion, one of which was the development of a 500-acre tract of land which abuts the Port of Catoosa.
From 1967 to 1971, Maxwell worked in Washington as a lobbyist for several Oklahoma interests. Maxwell, always a city promoter, was told by a visitor to the city, :You are one of the best salesmen Tulsa has ever had.”
A member of the American Legion, Maxwell served in India, Burma, and China during World War II. He was a graduate of Central High School and Oklahoma State University.
He is survived by two brothers, William R. Maxwell, of Tulsa, and George F. Maxwell of Houston, Texas and one sister Maria Felicitas of New York City, N. Y.