Mississippi College Alumni Magazine | Summer 2010

A Picture Perfect Gift

Dr. Sam Maxwell honors the father who inspired him with a scholarship at Mississippi College

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An experienced radiologist with St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California, Dr. Sam Maxwell can read an x-ray like a book. But Dr. Maxwell’s professional skills aren’t limited to medicine. He can also tell you how to remove a stain from a favorite dress or exactly how much starch is needed to make a collar stand at attention. Dr. Maxwell ’69 spent much of his youth working at Maxwell Cleaners, his family’s dry cleaning business in Drew, Mississippi. While laundry and radiology may not appear to have much in common, Sam Maxwell credits both fields with helping him cultivate the work ethic that’s led to his success.

Dr. Maxwell’s grandfather graduated from Mississippi College. Dr. Maxwell’s father, Lowry Maxwell, also found himself drawn to MC. Lowry Maxwell attended Mississippi College from 1926-27, a time when two years of college was the requirement to attend dental school. Lowry Maxwell enrolled in dental school at the University of Louisville, but the Great Depression forced him to give up his dream of becoming a dentist. Instead, he returned to his hometown of Drew and opened Maxwell Cleaners.

“I never once heard my father complain about having to leave dental school,” Dr. Maxwell says. “In fact, I never heard him complain about anything.”

Sam Maxwell worked alongside his father and mother in the dry cleaning business six days a week, putting in an hour before school, three hours after school, and up to 15 hours on Saturdays.

“That experience was very important to the formation of my work ethic,” Dr. Maxwell says. “I was paid for my work, so in a sense, I had a share in the profits of the business. When my friends would complain about their allowances, it wasn’t a concept I understood. Working there taught me that you get paid for what you do, not for who you are.”

When he wasn’t working at the dry cleaning shop, Sam Maxwell was hitting the books. He graduated from Drew High School as valedictorian and found himself considering scholarship offers from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, including Harvard and Yale. He was also offered the Carrier Scholarship to the University of Mississippi and the Hederman Scholarship to Mississippi College, both of which were full scholarships. After much prayer, deliberation, and interviewing of alumni from the various institutions, Sam Maxwell chose Mississippi College.

“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to go to MC,” Dr. Maxwell says. “Yes, Harvard and Yale had some prestige value, but what would it really have meant to go there? I knew that MC had the core values and academic program that would be a good fit for me. I would not have chosen MC if I hadn’t been certain I could accomplish my goal there, which was to get into medical school.

“I’ve never once wondered, ‘What would my life be like if I’d gone to Harvard or Yale?’” Dr. Maxwell continues. “I had a fantastic experience at Mississippi College and I have never once regretted my decision.”

“I’ve never once wondered, ‘What would my life be like if I’d gone to Harvard or Yale?’” Dr. Maxwell continues. “I had a fantastic experience at Mississippi College and I have never once regretted my decision.”

The only thing Maxwell sacrificed by attending MC was sleep. In addition to completing a rigorous pre-med program that included hundreds of hours of lab work, Maxwell served as the editor of the student newspaper. He describes his senior year as “a blur. I stayed up all night at least one night a week.”

Following his graduation from MC, Maxwell found himself again considering schools, this time medical schools. Once again, he was accepted to Harvard. During his interview at Harvard Medical School, one of the professors asked Maxwell if he had applied to Harvard for undergraduate school. When Maxwell replied, “yes,” the professor asked him if he had been accepted. Again, Maxwell replied, “yes.”

“Then why the [expletive deleted] did you choose a little school like Mississippi College?” the professor asked.

Maxwell responded with a description of the outstanding pre-med program and dedicated professors at MC. He went on to mention that MC was founded in 1826 and was the first American co-educational college to grant a degree to a woman, and shared several other notable facts and figures about his alma mater.

The professor finally said, “Okay, okay, I think I understand why you chose Mississippi College. Now, do you have any questions for me?”

“Yes sir,” Maxwell replied. “Did you apply to Harvard for undergraduate school?”

“Yes,” the professor replied.

“Then why didn’t you attend Harvard?” Maxwell asked.

The professor said sheepishly, “I didn’t get in.”

Maxwell continued to display a phenomenal work ethic as a medical school student, working for minimum wage as an autopsy assistant at a Boston hospital while completing his studies. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1973, then went on to complete a surgical internship and a one-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology before deciding that radiology was his calling.

Dr. Maxwell completed a residency in radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, a fellowship in cardiovascular radiology at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, and a fellowship in neuroradiology at Universitätsklinikum der Johannes Gutenberg Universität in Mainz, West Germany. Dr. Maxwell also taught radiology at Harvard Medical School and at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Today, in addition to his work as a staff radiologist at St. Jude, Dr. Maxwell chairs the hospital’s credentials committee, vetting the credentials of prospective doctors who wish to join the hospital staff. 

Lowry Maxwell passed away in 1985, living long enough to see his son well on his way to a successful career in medicine. In honor of the father who inspired him and taught him the value of hard work, Dr. Samuel Maxwell created the Lowry Maxwell Memorial Scholarship at Mississippi College. The scholarship is awarded annually to an outstanding chemistry or pre-med student.

Dr. Samuel Maxwell attended Mississippi College on the Hederman Scholarship, which paid for his tuition, room, and board.  In the mid-1960s when Maxwell was a student, the total annual value of that full ride scholarship was $1,000.

“Receiving the Hederman Scholarship helped me attend Mississippi College, and I wanted to give something back to MC,” Dr. Maxwell says. “I hope this gift will help MC to attract and retain academically talented students. I can’t think of any other institution more deserving than Mississippi College. I never considered supporting any other school.”

“This scholarship has come at a perfect time,” says Dustyn Baker, an MC sophomore and the recipient of the 2010 Lowry Maxwell Memorial Scholarship. “College is expensive and any financial support is wonderful, but it was a Godsend for me. My mother is ill, and having to carry the burden of college debt is no easy task for her. This scholarship will alleviate some of that burden.

“Receiving this award is a tremendous honor,” Baker continues. “The Maxwell scholarship is for those that the administration feels have what it takes to finish this race they’ve started. It’s an honor to be thought of in that respect.”

Dr. Maxwell trusts MC to choose the scholarship recipient, specifying only that the scholarship be awarded on the basis of merit.

“I’ve met a lot of doctors who have lived very privileged lives and really don’t know what hard work is,” Dr. Maxwell says. “They believe they should get paid just for being a doctor and not for the effort they put in. One of the lessons reinforced at MC was that hard work leads to good results. I still believe in a day’s work for a day’s pay and I wanted to help a student who shares that belief. As for me, I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m hoping never to quit. We have an 82-year-old in our practice who is one of our best workers, and I tell him, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like you.’”

Sam Maxwell and the Great Provine Protest

While Sam Maxwell was a student at MC in the 1960s, the administration made the decision to demolish Provine Hall, the old brick building that had housed MC science programs for more than 50 years. • As a pre-med student, Maxwell had spent many hours in Provine Hall. He was intimately familiar with the aging construction, the creaking and groaning of the walls and floors, the lack of air conditioning that left students broiling in the summer and the open space heaters that barely kept the building habitable in the winter. Still, there was something special about the stately old science building where he had spent so much of his college career. • “I had a love/hate relationship with Provine,” Dr. Maxwell recalls. “It was the scene of a lot of hard work and late nights, but the building had come to feel like home.” •  Deciding the building should be preserved, Maxwell led a petition drive to save Provine. Alas, his efforts were in vain. The night before the building was razed, Maxwell entered the building, turned on every light in every room, then stepped outside and snapped one last photo of the building “with the lights ablaze on its final night of glory.” Today, some four decades later, Dr. Maxwell still treasures that photo, along with a brick he retrieved from the demolition site and a set of metal letters reading, “Provine Hall.”

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