Monday was Carl Maxey Day as the mayors of Spokane and Seattle proclaimed it, a gospel choir sang it and 1,200 mourned.
About the time Maxey normally would have been leaving his favorite lunch table at the Ridpath Hotel, family, friends and former enemies gathered in the Empire Ballroom for a musical and emotion-packed service.
Two-and-a-half hours later, tears were still falling, black-robed judges still clapping and a memorial that was part wake, part revival, part call-to-activism was still paying tribute to the man.
Seattle Mayor Norm Rice called Spokane’s best-known defense attorney “one of Washington’s greatest treasures.”
Maxey died last Thursday morning of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 73.
The suicide ended the life of a local civil rights giant, a national boxing champion and formidable attorney who the New York Times said was “credited with virtually single-handedly desegregating much of the Inland Northwest.”
“He was a role model for all of us,” Rice said.
When the mayor heard of Maxey’s death, he withdrew from a conference in Portland to mourn. Sports, academic and legal leaders reacted throughout the West.
Former Washington State University men’s basketball coach George Raveling dined with Carl and Lou Maxey two months ago in Los Angeles, never dreaming it was a farewell meal.
“Today’s heroes are quarterbacks, center fielders and high-scoring guards. My hero is a coffee cream-colored man with silver hair, with the wit and wisdom of a Harvard professor,” Raveling said.
“Buddy, you’re my hero.”
Former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard read a Dec. 12, 1993, proclamation honoring Maxey’s lifelong accomplishments. His best quality, according to the proclamation Barnard wrote, is “he still gets madder than hell over any injustice.” With a nod from Mayor Jack Geraghty, Barnard declared Monday an official day of recognition as well.
Amid the dignitaries sat boyhood friends and a man who laid the carpet in Maxey’s house the day his son Bevan was born. The crowd was as wide-ranging as Maxey’s life.
Among them: a state Supreme Court justice; Superior and District Court judges; women who work at his law office on West Broadway who wore black ribbons that said “Maxey Girls”; divorce clients; professors from Eastern and Western Washington universities; the Rev. Bernard Coughlin, chancellor of Gonzaga University; retired Spokane County Prosecutor Donald Brockett; attorneys from across the state; Gypsy leader Jimmy Marks; Baptist preachers; and members of the Hells Angels.
“There is no color here, there is no discrimination here,” said Barnard. “Carl Maxey is bringing our community together one last time.”
As the Calvary Baptist Choir sang clear and strong, saxophone performances started and ended the program, led by the Rev. C.W. Andrews. Eulogists recounted friendships of an astonishing 40 and 50 years. But they also laughed, repeating samples of Maxey’s dead-on humor.
Court of Appeals Judge John Schultheis remembered when, as a trial judge, he handed a particularly stiff sentence to Maxey’s client.
“What am I supposed to tell my client?” Maxey asked.
Schultheis: “Tell him the judge is a stupid SOB.”
Maxey: “I already told him that.”
Kenneth MacDonald, 80 and still a practicing civil rights attorney in Seattle, told of how he and Maxey opened private clubs to blacks in Spokane County with threats of a suit.
He recounted Maxey’s proudest case: when he saved an 18-year-old escapee from extradition to a scheduled execution in the South.
And MacDonald and others cautioned that Maxey should be remembered as a leader for all.
The Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins, president of the Spokane County chapter of the NAACP, said “Carl Maxey, like Martin Luther King, was a drum major for peace, a drum major for social justice, a drum major for equality and fairness.” Watkins then placed a giant boot on the lectern.
“Who will fill these shoes?”
Maxey’s two attorney sons, Bill and Bevan, stood at the end of the service.
“We’re going to try,” said Bill Maxey. “You need to try with us.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)