Ralph Maxwell dies at 94; was among greatest older athletes ever

Ralph: a rare gem

Ralph was a rare gem.

Former USATF Masters Athlete of the Year and M90 multi-event superstar Ralph Maxwell died Sept. 28 at his home in Richville, Minnesota, surrounded by family, according to news reports. He was 94 and never ceased to make me smile. He competed as recently as March in Florida. A retired judge who set many records, WMA still lists him for M90 outdoor WRs in the 80- and 200-meter hurdles and the decathlon and pentathlon. He also was vault recordman for a few years. Indoors, he holds the 60-meter hurdles record and the pent best. He’s been featured here many times, and sometimes for antics off the track (his anti-Romney poem, for example). I haven’t read a cause of death, but nearly two years ago, he talked about having cancer. Type not specified. In December 2012, he wrote me: “I’ve got good news and bad. First, the bad. It’s cancer. The good news is this: When you eventually die, it will be some other cause, not this one.” Ralph said he was in Costa Rica for Christmas, “vigorously training as usual — running, jumping, throwing. If I felt any better, I would have to be put on a leash.”

Ralph was the greatest M90 hurdler in history, especially at 2011 worlds.


Here are several obituaries and some stories from my archive:

Ralph (Buzzy) Bernard Borden Maxwell was born November 26, 1919 in Devils Lake, N.D. to William Maxwell, Jr., Conway N.D. and Mary (Emma) Borden Maxwell, Merrifield, Minn.. He married Martha Elizabeth (Liz) Fargusson February 14, 1948.

He received a B.S. from UND and, during his college years, served in the U.S. Army in World War II. He graduated from UND School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1947.

He was Rolette County State’s Attorney, 1949-1953; Assistant and US Attorney for N.D., 1953-1958, private practice attorney, 1958-1967, district court judge, 1967-1978, and US administrative law judge, 1978-1985. He opened the Maxwell Law Offices in Fargo with his wife, Liz and son, William in 1988. In 1991, he retired from the practice of law.

He was active with the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre as an actor and playwright. At the age of 72, he began to compete in track and field events in the Senior Olympics and the USA Track and Field Association, which named him the 2010 Master Athlete of the Year. He holds the world record for the decathlon, age 90-95.

Ralph’s myriad interests included playing the trombone, ukulele and harmonica, skydiving, and wood carving. He and his wife enjoyed their time spent in Nosara, Costa Rica; Alamo, Texas; and at their current residence in Longboat Key, Fla. He spent his last days at his favorite spot: his summer lake home of 37 years, near Richville, Minn..

He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Marjorie Hammer.

Ralph will be remembered with great love by his wife of 66 years, Elizabeth, and his six adoring children, Susan Fitzgerald, Fergus Falls, Minn., Nancy Maxwell, Topeka, Kan. and Sarasota, Fla., Peggy Maxwell, Richville, Minn. and Tempe, Ariz., William Maxwell (Debra Taylor), Britt, Minn., Janice (Robert Lunney), Richard Maxwell (Victoria Vazquez), and 11 grandchildren, Robert Fitzgerald, Chanomi Maxwell-Parish, Kea Mwania, Jeremy Maxwell-Parish, Michael Fitzgerald, Maxwell Frederickson, Andrew Maxwell-Parish, Benjamin Maxwell, William Maxwell-Lunney, Dolores Maxwell and Shane Maxwell, and one great-grandson, Jalen Naverette, in addition to his brother, Francis (Frank) Maxwell (Kathleen) and the Ethiopian Wakeyo family.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that people “pay it forward” in Buzzy’s name.

Services are Friday, Oct. 3, 1:30 pm with a memorial gathering at 1:00 pm at the Glende-Nilson Funeral Home in Fergus Falls, Minn.

Wikipedia even noted his stature.

At 91, he shared a recipe:

Max was a madman, in a funny and nice way.

M90 hurdler Ralph Maxwell, who shared USATF Male Masters Athlete of the Year honors for 2010, also likes to share recipes. He writes: “Folks nowadays seem obsessed with diet. Especially those who are interested in achieving or preserving vibrant health as they grow older. As a 91-year-old active competitor in track and field, I’m often asked some version of this question: ‘What kind of food does a skinny, wrinkled old geezer like you eat, anyhow?’ That question hits my babbler button, and I start gabbing away about Buzzy (my nickname since infancy) Maxwell’s Power Breakfast. It features that delicacy, MAXWELL MUSH, an original fortified oatmeal concoction. Here’s the recipe: (It’s not copyrighted. It’s so healthful it belongs in the public domain.)”

In Bloomington, at the national indoor championships, 15 world records fell during the three-day meet, even with Martin sitting out. The oldest athlete to set a record was the rail-thin 92-year-old Ralph Maxwell, a retired North Dakota judge who bettered his own standard in the pentathlon. He said he came to track and field at 74, “reacting with shame and disgust at the flabby, flaccid body” he saw in the mirror.

In 2010, Maxwell was named the Master Male Athlete of the Year by USA Track and Field, the sport’s national governing body. There are not many competitors in their 80s and 90s, and each time Maxwell tried a new event, more success accrued. “I’d never hurdled until I was 88, and the first time I did it, I set a world record,” he said.

From his local TV station:

A former prominent North Dakota attorney and world record holder has died at his home in Richville, Minnesota.

Spanning from the 40s to the 90s, Ralph Maxwell was a State’s Attorney, U.S. Attorney, district court judge, U.S. administrative law judge and private practice attorney.

He then became involved with the Fargo Moorhead Community Theater and started competing in U.S. track and field events.

He holds the world record for the decathlon for the 90 to 95 age group.

His funeral is Friday afternoon in Fergus Falls.

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October 6, 2014

17 Responses

  1. Nolan Shaheed - October 6, 2014

    Rest In Peace Ralph. Truly a wonderful gentleman.

  2. Ed Dunaye - October 7, 2014

    Ralph was truly a “gentleman and a scholar” and a wonderful person. I met him in Sacramento and we laughed about his cereal formula for “mush”. Saw him break the world record for the decathlon and talked about seeing him again in Lyon. He wanted to keep going, but sadly he will be missed.

  3. Peter L. Taylor - October 7, 2014

    Ralph was a “stand-up guy” in more than one way. He stood up tall (“is that guy really 90?”), and he made no excuses. He was willing to try new things late in life, including very difficult events such as hurdling, and he made everyone around him happier.

    I’m glad to have known you, Ralph, and I will miss announcing you.

  4. Matt McCubbins - October 7, 2014

    This saddens me greatly. My wife and I had a chance to meet Ralph in Bloomington in 2012. We were grabbing lunch at Denny’s before heading out of town and Ralph was sitting in the booth next to us. He made a funny comment and introduced himself and we all chatted for several minutes. He was quite charming and put us in a good mood for the drive home.

    I saw him in Lisle, IL that summer as well. He was hanging out with his pal Tom Langenfeld, also of Minnesota, whom we had met at one of the Wisconsin meets in 2011. Joining a conversation with those two is a hoot.

    My father-in-law LOVED Ralph’s Romney poem, which brought some much needed laughter during his own long battle with cancer.

    Seems like Ralph couldn’t help making folks smile. I’m glad to have had the chance to meet him a couple of times.

  5. Jason Purcell - October 7, 2014

    I met Ralph at Indoor Championships, Bloomington. I feel fortunate. What a gentleman!

  6. James Snook - October 7, 2014

    Ralph was a great guy. I was Surprised to hear of his death. I remember seeing him compete at the Iowa Senior Games in June.

  7. Mark Cleary - October 7, 2014

    Terrific guy who lived a very full life, we should all be so fortunate !

  8. Dick Soller - October 7, 2014

    So sad to hear. Knew Ralph and competed in many meets together with him over the years. He did compete in the Iowa State Senior Games this past June in 10 events during the day (all gold of course), and qualified for the National Senior Games to be held in Minneapolis next year. A shame he won’t be there. His times and distances were amazing (go to
    http://www.nsga.com/stategames for results and a great photo) We’ll miss Ralph, may he rest in peace

  9. Ken Stone - October 7, 2014

    Ralph would have turned 95 in late November, so he might have become the oldest hurdler on record — if he isn’t already.

  10. Stefan Waltermann - October 8, 2014

    So, we’re sitting way up in the stands at the Boston Indoors, now quite a few years back. There was some excitement at the long jump pit, yelling, clapping, people having fun. Before Peter Taylor could announce the good news, Max Springer’s wife told us: “Max did something special.” Ralph Maxwell responded within a split second, ‘He went to the restroom this morning.’ Sums it up, the man was funny. I’m still smiling when I think about the moment.

  11. Terry Parks - October 8, 2014

    I met Ralph back in 2011 at the Souteaster Masters meet. I was amazed by him doing the decathlon in his 90’s. He said it was fun, plus for events like the pole vault he didn’t have to go very high. I thought about this, and I figured that I needed to have a more fun outlook to Masters track like Ralph.

    Ralph was indeed an inspiration. I am sorry to hear of his passing.

  12. Byrke Beller - October 8, 2014

    R.I.P. Ralph…you were a total stud!

  13. Jeff Davison - October 8, 2014

    Several years ago … I remember asking Ralph whom was on the internet blogging for him. And he held his wife close and stated we get on the computer together and figure it out together. He and his wife seemed very close and very happy.

    I enjoyed the couple times that he and I spoke. He was very nice to me.

  14. Bob Osterhoudt - October 9, 2014

    Ralph was a great man in every meaningful sense known to me, a thorough gentleman, an incisive commentator on the human (including the sporting) condition, a caring and thoughtful citizen, a respectful comic, and among the most remarkable track and field athletes of our time. Most of us struggle in our seventies to so much as spell ‘decathlons’ and ‘hurdles’; he actually and astoundingly did them in his nineties. Few, if any, of us will have as long or as rich a life or deserve as long or as rich a life as our dear and deeply valued friend. Bravo and farewell, dear Ralph! Bob Osterhoudt

  15. Ken Stone - October 9, 2014

    USATF notes Ralph’s passing:
    http://www.usatf.org/News/News-and-Notes—October-7,-2014.aspx

  16. Roger Vergin - October 9, 2014

    Members of the masters track & field community will miss Ralph, a true gentleman and a scholar. Ralph made everyone around him happier with his smile, his humor, and the grace of his athletics performances.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Ralph at the Indoor Nationals in Boston in 2010 when we were in the same group for the indoor pentathlon. In the first event, Ralph set a world record in the 60 meter hurdles and completed the day with a world record for the pentathlon. He added another world record in the triple jump the following day. The next year at the Sacramento World Masters Athletics meet, he surpassed the prior decathlon world record by his seventh event and went on to put it out of sight.

    Ralph was the first person I looked for at the national meets. I always made sure to watch his hurdle race, because he was exceptionally good and remarkably consistent at that difficult event. He ran the hurdles with a smoothness that most older hurdles can only dream to emulate.

    When Ralph was interviewed by National Masters News, he was asked if he had any particular training secret. He said he did and when asked what it was, his reply was, “Well, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it?”

    Well Ralph, I wish we all knew your secret to being such a productive and successful athlete and person.

    I shall miss you, my friend.

    Roger Vergin

  17. Jeff Davison - November 11, 2018

    [As of Nov. 2018]
    Age 90 American Sprint Hurdlers:
    (commonly known as the high hurdles):
    93: George Roudebush;
    92: Ralph Maxwell;
    91: Charles Ross;
    90: Albert Burt Morrow;

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