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  • Kevin Elliott

Jack Faxon

Former Michigan Senator Jack Faxon has been a longtime educator, lawmaker and artist who retired from politics more than two decades ago, but his accomplishments and achievements continue to be relevant today.

"My parents were from the old country, so they always expected me to make my own choices and do my own thing. They never imposed on me any requirements other than being a responsible personality," Faxon said of his upbringing and parents' immigration from Russia. "In many ways, my career in life was a unique experience as someone coming who was a first-generation American and going from an almost Victorian-type setting into a modern world where other people are looking at education and career to make money. I was driven by the idea of doing things for others."

This idealistic approach made Faxon popular with his constituents, who first sent him to Lansing in 1964 and kept him there until he retired in 1994. Among the accomplishments he's most proud of in his political career was funding the arts, and creating the Michigan Council for the Arts.

"I was very persistent in making certain that art and culture were treated with some respect and dignity," Faxon, a lifelong painter, said. "I always felt that the arts were treated with very little respect because the public didn't seem to understand the value it brought to the communities."

His love of the arts was evident in 1965 when he held his own art exhibit at the state Capitol. Today, his home in Birmingham includes a lifetime of collecting that rivals the finest museums. Throughout the years, he has been involved with the Detroit Institute of Arts, Harlem School of Arts board and other organizations.

Other political work Faxon is known for is the Michigan Indoor Air Act, which stemmed from his quest to curb smoking, and his work in education. In fact, it was his work as a teacher that led to politics and him being elected as a delegate to the 1961 Michigan Constitutional Convention, even before he was elected to the state legislature.

Teaching at inner-city schools in Detroit, Faxon quickly endeared himself to parents by visiting each family during the summer to get to know them and their needs. He later moved on to high school students, where he got interested in politics. It was those students and others that elected him as the youngest delegate to the 1961 convention.

After being elected to the legislature, Faxon was forced to leave public teaching. It was then that he started the City School of Detroit, which later moved to Southfield and became the International School, now located in Farmington Hills. Fifty years after its founding, the school continues to focus on teaching multiple languages and a global perspective.

"That was a student of mine who I had in 1956. She's a pastor and keeps in touch with me, and she's very kind, warm and friendly," Faxon said after taking a phone call at his home. "People ask if I have a family. I say, I have a lot of children, but they aren't mine."

While a recent medical issue has forced Faxon to put his love of flamenco dancing on hold, he continues to feel most comfortable surrounded by his art and paintings. As to what his next subject will be, Faxon said not to expect too much.

"I don't know what more you want me to do – parachute out of plane?" he said. "What's your next move, Faxon?"

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