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Four-term Tulsa mayor and civic leader James Maxwell was born on May 12, 1926, in Tulsa to William and Mary O'Donnell Maxwell. The family owned a downtown florist shop. During World War II James Maxwell volunteered for the U.S. Army and served in Burma, India, and China. In 1950 he graduated from Oklahoma State University and joined his father in business. In 1958, as a Democrat, Maxwell won his first Tulsa mayoral election, becoming the youngest to serve the city. During his four-term reign, matched in duration only by those of Herman Newblock and Robert LaFortune, Maxwell developed Tulsa's first master plan. Known for working sixteen-hour days, he spearheaded efforts to construct a new civic center (which in 1985 became the James L. Maxwell Convention Center), a new downtown civic government complex, the downtown central library, and the Inner Dispersal Loop. He expanded the city park system and oversaw Tulsa's International Airport's relocation. During his tenure the city acquired the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. As the federal government contemplated antisegregation legislation, Maxwell pushed for integration of Tulsa's public facilities, passing city ordinances that outlawed race-based discrimination, ahead of many U.S. civil rights acts.

In 1966 James Hewgley, Jr., a Republican, defeated Maxwell in his bid for a fifth term. In 1968, in Maxwell's last bid for the mayor's office, Hewgley again triumphed. After leaving office Maxwell worked as a consultant to the U.S. Commerce Department and later for TransPort Terminal, a project adjacent to the Port of Catoosa. He also returned to the family business, worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., became the head of Oklahoma's Corporation Commissions's Transportation Division, and then served as director of the state's Energy Conservation Services. Maxwell never married, and when he died on October 18, 1984, in Oklahoma City, his two brothers, William and George, and a sister, Maria Felicitas, survived him. James L. Maxwell was buried at Tulsa's Rose Hill Cemetery.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Danney Goble, Tulsa! Biography of the American City (Tulsa, Okla.: Council Oak Books, 1997). Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, 18 October 1984. Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 19 October 1984 and 12 January 1998. Who's Who in America, 1976-1977, Vol. 2 (Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, Inc., 1977).

Larry O'Dell

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