Go down to Stewart Beach at first light and you’ll see a burly, weather-beaten figure digging holes for an umbrella line.
A living legend turns 70 Saturday, and he’s still “running the line” six months out of the year.
Max Wilson, the middle child of 11 children, started working on the beach picking up soda water bottles at 9 years old. By 11, he was already working for John’s Beach Service at Stewart Beach. He worked for Harry Kahler, who started working the beach in 1935. A longtime bond formed between these two that would last for decades.
I met Max when I started guarding in ’83. He looked like he was carved out of rock. Shaking hands with him felt like I was taking a serious risk, as he could easily crush every bone in your hand. I once caught an alligator that I had corralled into a trash can. I was feeling pretty manly until Max saw it, reached in, grabbed and flipped it and rubbed its tummy. When it stopped wiggling, he said nonchalantly, “I’ve always heard this would put them to sleep.”
Through the past three decades we’ve become friends, and I’ve grown to really respect his single mindedness when it comes to running a large, unbelievably efficient operation and his love and appreciation for the Galveston beach.
Max quit school for good in 10th grade to take care of his mother, who had fallen ill. He got his GED and joined the army, serving as a tank driver in Germany from 1960 to 1963. “Wild times” he said, and I know him well enough that I didn’t ask for details. When he returned, he worked the wharf but felt the pull of the beach. He ended up managing Galveston, Palm Beach and Myrtle Beach, S.C. for many years.
Harry died in ’93, and Max was left as both sole proprietor and manager of the Stewart Beach business, helped primarily by his brother Walter. Together they have more 100 years of experience.
That winter he bought a round-the-world ticket. He stopped in Australia and fell in love with it. “The people are true to heart,” he said. “Aussies don’t let things get to them. It’s a good code to live by.”
When asked of Galveston and the future of the beaches, Max said: “Galveston has always had so much infighting to attract people, you have to have harmony.”
He feels that this has caused industry to suffer. For the tourist industry to profit amenities have to be there, as “you can’t rely on the beach and restaurants alone.” These amenities have to be “maintained and monitored.”
Max says he’s loved seeing three generations of employees and beach patrons grow. He still looks forward to work each day. To those still working and carrying on the tradition he says, “Love what you do and be willing to sacrifice to be successful.”
We will and we do, Max. We learned from you. Happy birthday.
Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity. Information on the Beach Patrol is at galvestonbeachpatrol.com.