Photo Courtesy of George Hoag
By Taylor Sisk
He was a familiar sight to most all Weaver Street Market regulars and a comforting presence to so many. Max Paul had a warm greeting for all his friends. He would sit with the closest among them to discuss politics, in a reasoned voice, and the particulars of the day, but had little interest in discussing his own life â€“ a life that by the few accounts available was rich and apparently quite colorful. Max Paul, 87, died on June 13 at the Chapel Hill Rehabilitation Center.
â€œWe all cared very deeply about Max,â€ said Weaver Street operations manager James Watts, â€œbut we knew very little about his life.â€
Max was born to Austrian immigrant parents on the Lower East Side of New York on January 10, 1920. After graduating from high school, he worked odd jobs. With the outbreak of World War II, and with his older brothers having been drafted, he remained at home to care for his ailing mother. Upon her death, he entered the Army and was discharged in 1943 â€“ most probably a medical discharge.
After the war, he spent several years on a kibbutz in Palestine and marched in Israelâ€™s Independence Day parade. Back in the States (though precisely when is unclear), he enrolled at Black Mountain College â€“ an experimental school located in western North Carolina, influenced by the Bauhaus movement and home for a time to such scholars and artists as Buckminster Fuller, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham and John Cage.
In the early â€˜50s, he enlisted in the Merchant Marine, serving in the Mediterranean.
Max subsequently came to UNC, where he was active in theater and in the labor and social-justice movements.
He would then spend some years, in the words of his good friend Chapel Hill resident George Hoag, â€œbouncing around.â€ He was a maitre dâ€™ in Miami, and eventually went into sales â€“ though, said Hoag, â€œnobody knows what he sold.â€
Max retired to Chapel Hill, andÂ Hoag met him here in the early â€˜90s: â€œThatâ€™s probably when he came into the area. He was very vigorous then.â€
â€œHe was a stream of consciousness talker,â€ Hoag said. He tells of driving around town as Max would describe what the things he saw reminded him of from his many travels.
Maxâ€™s home the last years of his life was the Covenant House in Carrboro â€“ but his primary residence was Weaver Street Market.
â€œHe touched so many people,â€ said Diane Ivers Raulli, who regularly lunched with Max at Weaver Street. â€œHe was always there. My eyes are still seeing him, with his bagels, his jam and his tea â€“ so nice and welcoming and warm.â€
â€œHe was the first face I got to know when I moved to Carrboro three years ago,â€ Raulli said, â€œand I would mooch in on his table.â€ She describes sitting with Max and discussing this and that, perhaps politics â€“ she becoming emotional when talking about the government; Max, calmer, no more enamored of Bush, but a â€œvoice of reason.â€
Many others in Carrboro also came to know Max. Hoag said, for example, that he became friends with the tellers at the bank:
â€œAt Christmas time, heâ€™d give them a $2 tip. Of course, theyâ€™d have to put it back into his account because they werenâ€™t allowed to take it.â€ Though known for being decidedly frugal, Hoag said, Max took care of those he cared about. â€œAnd he was apologetic if he had to ask you for a favor.â€
As his body was failing, Max continued to exercise his mind. Hoag said that the Carrboro Cybrary â€œwas just a gold mine for him.â€ He was often found there, checking out books and reading The New York Times.
Maxâ€™s progressive medical problems baffled the doctors, said Hoag, adding that he most probably died of a series of small strokes. â€œHe was weak on one side, and kept falling at home.â€
â€œHe was prepared to die,â€ Hoag said. â€œHe spent the last two years getting [things in order]. Hoag said that Max had reacquainted himself with his roots toward the end, and that he had wanted a traditional funeral.
Services were held on June 14 and were led by Rabbi Morton Green at the Chapel Hill Kehillah Cemetery at Markham Memorial Gardens.
â€œHe is, to me,â€ said Raulli, â€œa very precious memory.â€
Plans for a commemoration of Max Paulâ€™s life are being discussed. There is also talk of planting a tree at Weaver Street Market in his honor.