Gaylord Maxwell, 83, author, educator and founder of the Life on Wheels (LoW) instructional program for RVers, died Saturday (Sept. 20) afternoon after a short illness in Couer d’Alene, Idaho.
As recently as the first week in September, Maxwell taught four Life on Wheel classes to RV enthusiasts prior to the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show in Hershey, Pa. “I still enjoy teaching,” he said after the show.
Given the state of the RV industry, Maxwell was pleasantly surprised that the attendees were so engaged and that as many as a third of the 166 people who registered for the 3 1/2-day LoW program in Hershey didn’t own RVs, which made them potential buyers.
A popular personality within the industry for years, Maxwell was born in Robinson, Ill., one of nine kids, and attended a one-room country school. He didn’t finish high school until after serving in the Navy during World War II.
He moved to Hollywood to become an actor, but found jobs lacking. After obtaining a degree from Pomona College on the GI Bill, Maxwell eventually taught high school history and government classes for 17 years. He later earned a master’s degree in American Studies at Cal State University where he became an adjunct professor.
Maxwell came to the outdoor recreation industry while casting about for summer work when he was still teaching. He borrowed $1,000 from the teacher’s credit union and opened a camping store – M&M Camping. “Camping fits with summer and it fit my schedule, but also it interested me,” he recalled in a 2001 interview with RVBusiness. “My background as a kid was camping and fishing – outdoor stuff.”
He later took on travel trailers and motorhomes and operated RV dealerships in Pomona, San Bernardino and Harbor City in California.
He became a writer while promoting his dealership with a series of camping articles for the local newspaper, which came to the attention of the Rouse Family’s TL Enterprises Inc. TL was launching RV Retailer magazine, the predecessor to RV Business, and Maxwell was asked to pen an outdoor column.
Initially, he contributed extensively to RVBusiness, Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines, and continued to write periodically for the publications.
In 1993, Maxwell began teaching a class in “extended-time RVing” for the University of Idaho’s summer enrichment program, and in 1996 launched LoW, an intensive series of classes involving more than 150 different subjects for RVers presented over four days. Initially, LoW was based at the University of Idaho, but recently moved to Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, with satellite classes over the years in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Kentucky and Iowa.
In all, Maxwell recently estimated that more than 10,000 RVers – 20% of them first timers – have attended Life on Wheels.
Maxwell is survived by his wife, Margie. A private memorial service will be Friday. The family asks that donations be made in Maxwell’s name to the donor’s favorite charity.