I called Keith in
January of 2003. My business was struggling and both my confidence and quite
frankly, my faith were shaken.
advice was simple, “With God, all things are possible.”
We talked for
a while about what that meant, and as I hung up the phone I was both relieved
at the simplicity of his counsel, and perplexed at the strength of this faith. I
wondered how anyone could trust so completely. At the same time, there was just
something about him that was different. He was one of those rare souls who made
the world a better place just by being here. Trusting him was simple.
I set out
over the next few years to study Keith and the Maxwell clan. I wanted to know
what made them uniquely different than any family I had known. Keith led his
family as a shining example of what a Husband, a Dad and a Grandpa should be. He
was a living role model. I had never meant anyone like him, and to this day I
boiled down Keith’s philosophy for business and life to three basic, but pure
Keith’s principles continue to guide my life today.
Principle 1: Serve first. Sell second.
Keith had a very simple
business philosophy, which resulted in incredible financial and professional
success. Unlike most self-made men, Keith wasn’t boastful, so it took a
long time for me to understand what his secret really was. If you ever
watched Keith operate, be it at work, church, on vacation, or with his family,
Keith put service above all else. “Serve first.” He looked at every
situation as an opportunity to serve, whether that was opening the door for me
at a restaurant, asking about how my business was doing, or inquiring as to the
strength of my faith. Like everyone else in his life, Keith wanted to be
of service to me. I was dumbfounded. In my family, it’s like every
person for themselves, so being around Keith felt like I had been transported
to a foreign country.
At first I
thought it was because he was in the prime of his retirement years when we met,
and he simply had more time on his hands. However, as I listened to his
family tell stories about his professional accomplishments, I realized this
theme was the central component of his business strategy.
18-restaurant Sweden House chain throughout Michigan and Minnesota was
incredibly successful. This family dining establishment had a reputation
for service, but not just to customers. Everything about the way Keith
led was about being of service: to his customers, his vendors, his employees,
his family, and of course, his faith. Keith frequently explained to me
that he made EVERY business decision in prayer. But, not the kind of
prayer I was used to praying in my business (“God, please bring me a new
customer…”). Instead, Keith prayed, “Lord, how can I serve you today?” That’s how he started EVERY day. No joke. He told me story
after story about hard decisions he had to make, and how he simply lifted the
decision up in prayer. He ran his business that way, without fail. When there was a conflict with an employee or a vendor, he simply asked,
“What choice would serve the most people?” That was how he was guided. Serve first.
professional tribute to Keith will be to lead that way. I vow to start
every day with that question, “How can I serve?”
Principle 2: Let Grace Replace Judgment
Keith had very strong
convictions, and for those who dared to verbally spar with him, even stronger
opinions. I loved that about him. But it quickly dawned on me that there was
something different about Keith’s opinions. In spite of his beliefs, or his opinions,
Keith let grace replace judgment. We
frequently disagreed, but Keith never judged me. Never. At the same time, he
never wavered on his beliefs. It was like his belief, and my belief, although
different, could co-exist. It blew my mind for the entire time I’ve known him. Different
beliefs allowed to co-exist? How could that be?
On a visit to
Grand Rapids in the summer of 2002, I decided to play a joke on Keith. The TV
was almost always tuned to Fox News, and when Keith went into the other room, I
grabbed the remote and turned it to CNN. I fully expected him to at least give
me a hard time about the dangers of watching CNN.
take long for him to realize what I had done. His face had this quizzical
expression on it, as I observed him from the corner of my eye.
after a few minutes, he said, “So, you like CNN huh?”
I said, “Yes,
as a matter of fact I do.”
and said, “Well, good for you.”
That was it. No
judgment, no ridicule, not even a passive-aggressive comment about the ‘liberal
course of the weekend, and actually for years later, I continued to test Keith,
waiting for him to pass judgment the way so many of us do. He never did.
occur to me until the last time I sat with Keith in the Spring of 2010, after
Helen’s death, what this was. I sat in the chair next to him at the nursing
home while family members busied about. For some reason, I felt my role that
afternoon was to entertain Keith, and I willingly complied. Any time spent
talking with Keith was pure joy, because he welcomed my questions and
encouraged my desire to learn.
well that Keith and I did not share similar political beliefs, I asked, “Keith,
what do you think about our new President?”
know, I wanted Hillary to win, even though she’s not a republican. I thought
she would be a stronger president.”
pushing, “Yeah, but what do you think of our new President?”
“He’s our President, and I pray for him.”
There it was,
that “pray for him” thing. I had heard Keith say that he “was praying for me”
and in my own spiritually immature mind I thought he was praying that I would
change or something.
let the moment go, for fear I wouldn’t see Keith again and I had to know the
truth. “Ok, Keith, so when you pray for us, does that mean you’re praying for
us to change, to believe what you believe?”
no,” he said. I simply pray that you come to know the Grace of the Lord. If you
receive that, everything else works out.”
perfectly still. This was it. This was his secret. His words twirled about the
room as my mind slowly grappled with phrases to encapsulate this wisdom. After
what seemed like an eternity, I said, “So, you let grace replace judgment?”
about right. I think that’s how God wants us to live, don’t you?” He grinned.
“Yep, I think you’re right, Keith.” And,
then we turned on Fox News.
Principle 3: Love Big
In May 2004, Keith and
Helen attended my MBA graduation celebration. It was a proud moment, and I was
delighted they were there. I saved them a special seat at the head table, and
introduced them to my family, friends, co-workers, and church family. It was
one of my all-time favorite memories. We even danced with Helen.
everyone but a few close friends left, Keith told the age-old story of how he
met Helen. I am sure many of us have heard this story a dozen times, and I
think I was on at least my 3rd version.
time I listened to him talk about Helen, I noticed his face lit up, and his
smile got bigger. Wanting that depth of love, I asked, “Keith, how is it that
you can love Helen so much?”
in his matter of fact tone, “She’s my angel.”
I knew he
didn’t understand the question, and it was important to me that he did, so I
rephrased it carefully. “No, Keith, how is that you can love anyone that
deeply? I struggle with letting my love out. How do you do that?”
He sat there
for a minute, and then he got this little twinkle in his eye, you know the
one…playful, mischievous and precious all at the same time.
“I decided a
long time ago that there was only one way to love…” and then he let his words
trail off for affect, purposely not answering the question, with a grin a mile
resist and said with my own playful smile, “What way is that Keith?”
twinkled even more, and it was like I could almost hear him laughing inside,
even though he didn’t make a sound. Then, finally, he threw his arms in the air
and shouted, “BIG!!! Love big!!!”
laughed, and he chuckled knowing full well that his charm and wit had won the
table over. I laughed with everyone else, but noticed Keith watching me
carefully. It was like he saw right
through me that night, and when we had a minute alone he said, “You know,
Terri, love isn’t like a faucet that you can turn on or off. You either love
big or go it alone. It’s a lot better if you can love big.
I knew he was
right. He usually was. “Yes, Keith. Love big. Got it.”
He smiled and
walked away with this little skip in his step. Then, he grabbed Helen by the
arm and escorted her to the car, humming as he walked.
moment, I felt it. I felt “love big.”
made the world a better place by simply caring enough to see us for who we really
are, as children of God. At the same time he allowed us to be who were truly
were, as people, whether he agreed or not. He left a piece of himself in each
of us and I chose to carry that light forward. If I am lucky, maybe my actions
will honor his life, and my spirit will serve his legacy.
- Serve first.
- Let grace replace judgment.
- And, by all means, LOVE BIG!
Thanks Keith. Give Helen a kiss for me.