A Tribute to Max Schmidt (1926-2017)

A Tribute to Max Schmidt (1926-2017) 2018-01-12T19:56:10+00:00

Max was a visionary and he imparted that way of thinking to his co-workers and many people in the community. That is an important part of his legacy; he was our co-worker, our teacher, our mentor and most importantly, our friend.

In his obituary of Max, Roger Showley wrote about how Max referred to himself as “the People’s Planner”.  This is what he taught us: that it is all about the people and the community.

I first met Max when I joined the City Planning Department in 1971. And I had the privilege of working with him until he retired from CCDC.

Working with Max was always a great learning experience–an experience that sometimes resulted in heated arguments –never disagreements. And after a gnashing and grinding of teeth – by Max–all would be forgotten. The grinding and gnashing of teeth was a characteristic of Max.  One Father’s Day his “three sons” bought him a boxer’s mouthpiece to protect his teeth.

Many may not know that Max had three sons at the office:  Dave Alsbrook, Frank Wolden, and myself. We called him our Dad and he gave us all a common name, “you Festerheads”. And, as his sons, we had certain family responsibilities. One was to get to know the people who ran the lost-and-found at San Diego Transit.

Max would take materials home to work on and then come back to the office without them. It was our job to contact the bus company to see if anything that looked important and official had been left on the #5 bus. We would then go retrieve them. Once after making a presentation on the City’s growth management plan at the County he came back without the plan maps. Fortunately, a janitor found them in the men’s room and tracked Max back to the City. Who knows, if he had not done that the city might look quite different today.

Max set the bar for us professionally and personally.

Professionally the phrase “truth to power” comes to mind –we have a responsibility to tell it like it is. This is but one of the lessons Max taught us.

For many years the last lecture of the season in the Friends of San Diego Architecture series was “What does Max think?” and Max would speak his mind on the issues of the day.

And many of the things he said then are still relevant today.

An example:  reuse of the 166-acre Qualcomm stadium site is currently undergoing much discussion. At a 2002 workshop sponsored by the SDU-T on the same topic, Max said: “Whatever we do on this site, we ought to do it as an example of the highest possible architectural and landscaping standards, so that when we come to rebuilding Mission Valley and addressing some of the older uses which are becoming obsolescent, that we have this as a model for that development.”

This speaks to Max’s approach to all that we do as planners.

Mike Stepner, FAIA, FAICP
March 4, 2017

Note: Michael Stepner, a close friend and colleague of Schmidt wrote a tribute to Max which was not given at the time of Max’s death. Friends of San Diego is honored to share what Stepner wrote. This picture of Schmidt comes from the files of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 where Max spent time as president.