A few weeks ago, my husband Stuart and I traveled to the “west coast” of Michigan, first to Saugatuck, where we had a lovely visit on a rainy day to the Wickwood Inn, and then to Holland, where Stuart explored the downtown and I visited Max DePree, the man who has been my mentor for more than a decade.
Those books contain personal stories from his years of leading the Herman Miller furniture company, his family life, and his service on nonprofit boards. They exude a rare combination: confidence, authority, humility, and accountability. Max lives his philosophy of leadership, best exemplified by the title of this book: Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community. Max has been generous with his time. He was the first mentor in my life to ask me the kind of questions I described in my last post: personal, ambiguous, and anxiety-producing. I look forward to our infrequent one-on-one meetings because I will inevitably be surprised by one of his questions and ponder them long afterward.
Max has written one book that is evidently out of print now. It is a memoir in the form of a letter to his granddaughter Zoe. Called Dear Zoe, the book describes the Max’s love for the premature baby born to his daughter, a baby so tiny that her arm fit inside Max’s wedding ring. Max helped Zoe cling to life by gently stroking her tiny body while talking to her. A nurse in the hospital told him, “She has to connect your voice to your touch.”
Max will be celebrating an important birthday in a few days. I won’t tell you which one it is, but if you guess it by looking at this picture taken in August, you will guess too low. Max continues to connect his voice and his touch with his family and many friends. My life has been immensely enriched by Max’s voice. His questions echo in my mind. His stories instruct my own. His spirit inspires me to be a better person.
Happy Birthday, Max!