Making Good on a Promise

I want to make good on a promise. I promised to share the story of Maxine Gail Garrett, a Moravian woman who lived grace, gratitude and generosity.  Her story was one of the focal points of the workshop Laura and I presented at the 12th Moravian Women’s Conference held earlier this year. Many of the women who came to our sessions knew Maxine and some even added stories of their own.   

Maxine was born in 1929 in Indianapolis, IN. She was educated at Butler University of Indianapolis and Indiana University. She also attended the Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University, and received CIBSS (Center of International Banking Studies) certification from the University of Virginia, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Maxine retired as Senior Vice President of Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C., International Division. Maxine began her banking career as a bank teller and was the first Black employee of Indiana National Bank in Indianapolis, Indiana.

How did she begin? At the bottom – with a lot of grit and ambition, a no-nonsense, “get the work done” attitude, a “dress the part” methodology - to support her family. She later joined a group of Black businessmen in founding Indiana's first minority bank, The Midwest National Bank in Indianapolis, where she was promoted to assistant vice-president. In 1976 she moved to Washington, D.C. and was hired at Riggs National Bank as assistant vice-president. After 15 months Maxine was appointed full vice-president at the Watergate Office. She served on the Finance Committee of the World Bank.

Among her greatest accomplishments was the founding of Faith Moravian Church of the Nation's Capital over 25 years ago. She saw the need for a Moravian congregation in the Washington D.C. area, so she brought people together and made it happen.

In 1982 she was elected to the Northern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference, and she represented the Moravian Church in the National Council of Churches, where she was elected treasurer of the Council's executive body.

Maxine served on the World Council of Churches for eight years as a member of the WCC's Finance Committee, representing the churches in the USA. She was a part of the group which led sensitive missions on behalf of the National Council of Churches to the then Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China to convey the United States’ desire for peace.

She also served on the Board of Moravian Theological Seminary and Moravian College, serving as chair of the Finance Committees of both organizations, and as the chair of the Presidential Search Committee during her board tenure.

“She was full of grace and the Holy Spirit,” says Burke Johnson, past NP PEC president. Burke and his wife Eleanor shared many Maxine stories about the times she visited with them and the impact she had on their family. Burke recalled that Maxine wanted to go fishing when she visited their home in Sturgeon Bay. And fishing they did.  To say she was successful on that fishing trip is an understatement. She reeled them in, much to Burke’s delight and to Maxine’s.

It was also during that visit that she was overheard on a phone call she received from work. It seems that a Shah (Burke didn’t remember which Shah but it was someone from an OPEC nation) had requested a $106 million dollar loan in order to buy a new yacht.  Maxine said, “But his limit is $100 million – that’s it – no more than a million! He may not exceed his limit!”

Part of the joy of preparing our session for the conference was hearing all the wonderful stories about a woman who made a difference in all parts of our Moravian Church. Maxine entered the more immediate presence of her Savior in 2014. And she left a legacy.

Upon retirement, she sold her home in D.C. and dedicated a generous portion of the proceeds to create a permanent fund through the Foundation. Since 2006, The Maxine Garrett Mission and Ministry Fund has distributed over $21,000 to benefit her church in D.C. as she wanted to help Faith Moravian pay off some debt and then support its work in the D.C. neighborhoods.  In those initial conversations with Maxine, Paul McLaughlin remembers how excited she was to do something very significant for her Church. As Maxine said to Paul: “God has blessed my family and me in so many ways. I simply want to give the Church something back to help it do more.”

Maxine’s story of grace, generosity and gratitude continues and will continue to make a difference.

And I wanted to keep my promise, because it’s the very thing Maxine would do.