J. Max Millstone, a former secretary of the Maryland Department of General Services and longtime workers’ compensation commissioner whose personal and professional life was defined by integrity, died Jan. 6 in his Pikesville home. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was 91.
A graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, Mr. Millstone took a career with state government that began in 1960. He rose to become the state’s general services secretary in 1977, at a time when bribery, theft and waste rocked the government’s contracting, construction and purchasing arm and undermined faith in bureaucracy.
Mr. Millstone took steps to improve the state agency by investigating the potential for abuse in awarding contracts for everything from fuel to vegetables, eliminating the informal bidding system for construction jobs and increasing opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
His efforts to boost the ability for black vendors to win government contracts took a personal toll. Newspaper articles at the time described the anger of white contractors. Mr. Millstone worked hard to keep one thing out of the public eye for the sake of his family: When his teenage son turned off a football game to go to bed one Monday night, he discovered a burning cross on the Millstones’ front lawn.
Though the act was meant to intimidate him, Mr. Millstone did not falter in his efforts.
“He felt it was fair, it was right, it was important,” said his daughter, Rebecca Millstone Sandler of Pikesville. “All his life, that was Dad. He wanted to be honest and fair.”
Born in 1928 to Samuel and Sara Millstone, Julius Max Millstone was raised with two sisters on Anoka Avenue near Druid Hill Park. He graduated from Baltimore City College in 1946 as a member of the National Honor Society and attended the University of Maryland.
Partially as a strategy to get out of working until closing at his father’s Park Plaza restaurant in Mount Vernon, Mr. Millstone took night classes at the University of Baltimore to earn his law degree. He worked as an assistant Baltimore solicitor, specializing in real estate, before joining the state government.
He was married to the former Elaine Carliner for 66 years until her death 2013. First spotting his future wife pushing a baby carriage, Mr. Millstone was 14 and briefly heartsick at the thought he’d met her too late. He soon learned she was only babysitting.
Mrs. Millstone accompanied her husband to courtrooms across the state for his job evaluating workers’ compensation claims — kvelling, their daughter said, in the gallery with love and pride for her husband.
The two had a big love, yearning for whatever time they could spend together. After Mr. Millstone’s death, their children found the couple’s love letters saved in his files.
Their son, Sam Millstone of Rockville, said his father “truly was the finest man I ever knew.”
“He was so modest,” Mr. Millstone said. “He had no ego at all. He didn’t rise high from ambition, but accomplishment and merit. He did well by doing well for the state.”
In 1979, Gov. Harry Hughes called Mr. Millstone “a hard-working, competent, honest administrator.” Mr. Millstone was one of just three Cabinet secretaries whom Mr. Hughes retained from the previous administration when he became governor.
The late David P. Gordon, a Baltimore lawyer and family friend, said at the time of the transition that Mr. Millstone “has a reputation as being absolutely fair. He leans over backward to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. There’s no such thing as giving him a free lunch. Right from the start of his career, he made it clear Max wasn’t to be had.”
Said another associate, John F.X. O’Brien, then assistant director to the state personnel department, “He’s a very meticulous, thorough person who I believe is completely honest.”
Mr. Millstone left the general services department in 1983 for the Workers’ Compensation Commission. He retired from the commission in 2006.
To the staff during his tenure in General Services, he said, “It is not my intention that this department should function as a control agency, with a mission dedicated to frustrating the desirable pursuits of the agencies we serve.
“We should earn a reputation for the courteous, prompt and effective manner in which we deal.”
Besides family and work, Mr. Millstone loved crab cakes, the Orioles and the Ravens. He was a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation. He and friends called themselves the Retired Old Men Eating Out Wednesdays, or “Romeo(w)s.” For years, they drove from Pennsylvania to Washington to Delaware for food and conversations.
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Mr. Millstone’s son Sam said he and his brother Joe took comfort in the Ravens’ playoff loss earlier this month, just days after their father’s death, so he didn’t have to endure the heartbreak. And if the team had made it to the Superbowl, it might have been too hard for them to bear without their dad.
Besides his three children, Mr. Millstone is survived by five grandchildren, Sara Millstone Sandler and Larry, Lee, Alexander and Ethan Millstone; and three great-granddaughters Amelia Bea, Viera and Thais Elaine Millstone.
He was preceded in death by his wife, his parents and two sisters EveLynne Molofsky and Beatrice Herman.
A scholarship at the University of Baltimore School of Law has been established in his name for students who are married.