How many people Robert "Bob" Maxwell lifted up with a kind word or helped with a forgiven invoice and a few groceries during hard times may never be known. What will be keenly felt, however, is the void the horse transportation executive left when he died in his native Lexington March 28. Maxwell had just turned 82 the previous day.
Maxwell played an integral role in the success of people throughout the horse community through Sallee Horse Vans, a shipping company his family bought in 1963 from Bill Sallee and grew into the nation's leader in horse transportation.
"My father loved people and he loved horses. He spent his entire career serving both," said Tara Elliott, one of Maxwell's three daughters. "It was so important to him to treat everyone the same and with respect, whether you were a hotwalker working for a trainer with three horses or Mr. Phipps."
The kindness and generosity Maxwell extended daily to others was done for one purpose—to see the people around him succeed and thrive. Hall of Fame trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey said he will never forget the support he got from Maxwell as he struggled to get his career started.
While stabled at Oaklawn Park, McGaughey had just lost a big client and Maxwell would stop by his house every week to make sure there were groceries in the refrigerator.
"He was a wonderful man to a lot of people and was always especially helpful to us young guys who were trying to get our careers going," McGaughey said. "He took awfully good care of everyone. Words really cannot describe."
"I had not been training very long and was at Arlington Park," McGaughey recalled. "It was the end of the meet and we all wanted to get out of there and get to Keeneland. Once I learned we could get into Keeneland, I went to the van agent—who didn't know me and had his own loyalties—and told him I needed four vans by Friday going to Lexington. The next day I had four vans. That was pretty good for a guy just starting out."
Maxwell got one of his greatest rewards at Churchill Downs in 2013 when he watched McGaughey win the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Orb.
"When Orb won the Derby for Shug, my dad broke down in tears," said Maxwell's son Ryan. "For all he did for others, he never asked for anything in return. What he got out of it was watching his friends succeed and knowing he had a hand in that."
When Maxwell's parents, Robert S. and Arminda, and his sister Patsy, bought Sallee, the company owned three trucks that could carry three horses each. They grew the company to fleet of 65 trucks by 2006, when the company was bought by Patsy's daughter Nicole Pieratt with Perry Bozarth.
The Maxwells grew the company by focusing on providing the best service to the customer and the safest conditions for the horses. They designed and had their own trucks built and made on-time arrival a priority. In the early days of horse transportation, a truck might be promised within a window of several days and sometimes might not show up all. Bob Maxwell changed that and earned a loyal following.
"People have a high level of trust with Sallee and that is a direct result of Bobby," said McGaughey. "Any good company starts off with a good foundation and Sallee started out with a great foundation with Bobby and his family. Bobby would bend over backwards to help you."
Along with his parents, Maxwell was also preceded in death by his son-in-law, William (Bill) McNamara. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Ramona (Hempfling) Maxwell; three daughters, Maria (Bill) McNamara of Lexington, Tara (Chris) Elliott of Lexington, and Robin (John) Hudson of Nonesuch, Ky.; one son, Robert "Ryan" (Danielle) Maxwell of Union, Ky. He has six grandchildren: Joshua (Kara) McNamara, Hannah McNamara, Clayton Maxwell Elliott, Katherine "Gracie" Elliott, Mikayla Schornack, and Olivia Schornack; and three great-grandchildren: Stella McNamara, Kennedy McNamara, and Harrison McNamara; and his sister Patsy (Bruce) Pieratt.
Maxwell graduated from Lafayette High School and was inducted into the Lafayette Hall of Fame in 1994. He would later attend the University of Kentucky. Maxwell also was an ardent UK basketball fan and made friends with former coaches, players, and officials.
"He was centerpiece at Kentucky basketball games and we talked a lot about what was going on with the program," said McGaughey. "You could find him center court on the aisle about 20 rows up. He was always sitting there."
Maxwell served as vice president at Sallee and would become a national leader in the horse transportation business. Maxwell was first elected president of the National Horse Carriers Association in 1974 and held the position for more than 30 years. He also provided expert testimony over the years to the U.S. Congress regarding issues involving the live transport of animals. Closer to home, Keeneland used his expertise to design its loading chutes, and Maxwell was instrumental in creating the Mounted Police Unit for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
A private burial will be followed by funeral services Saturday, April 1, at Man O War Church of God, 1501 Trent Blvd., Lexington. Visitation will be from 12:30-2:30 p.m. followed immediately by services. In lieu of flowers the family asks for donations to the Race Track Chaplaincy of America or Man O War Church of God. Honorary pallbearers include: Clayton Elliott, Paul Galvan, Dean Hayes, Joshua McNamara, Justin Moritz, and Dick Parsons.