Jack Faxon

After more than 30 years serving the citizens of Michigan, former Sen. Jack Faxon certainly could look back on his life of public service with pride and enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

His political career has been well-documented: a former legislator, one of the last surviving delegates of the Michigan Constitutional Convention, elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1964, a member of the Appropriations Committee for Education, composer of the bill establishing the Michigan Council for the Arts, to name just a few highlights.

Jack Faxon 1979

But the energetic, personable Faxon has more than politics to keep him active. He is an avid art collector as well as an artist in his own right, and his Birmingham home is a true showplace, with a priceless collection of sculpture, paintings, stained glass and oriental rugs, ranging from ancient pieces to modern works, including his own. He even had his own art exhibition in the State Capitol back in 1965, which featured his abstract paintings.

“I was always an artist, collecting and creating it most of my life, and feel very close to the artwork in my home as an autobiographical statement,” Faxon said with pride. “I put together a gestalt environment of all the arts so as to integrate cultures. My art is inspired by things I see, and my early works were based on what I felt within. This constitutes a unique environment.”

Different rooms represent different parts of the world, Faxon explained, and he has combined, with an expert eye, various media in a multitude of shapes and sizes for material and visual integration, and personal enjoyment.

But art is only one of Faxon’s interests, and these different avenues led to his varied career. His parents came as adults from Russia, and one of the things they instilled in him was the importance of education. In 1956, he became a teacher of social studies at a Detroit middle school.

“I was either going to be a rabbi or a teacher,” he joked, “and even though my mother came from an Orthodox background and I did go to Hebrew school, I didn’t become a rabbi because I didn’t go to yeshivah!”

A quote from Cicero carved in stone on the outside of his home somewhat belies his involvement in education: “Life is ruled by fortune, not knowledge.”

Jack Faxon

Faxon noted that his good performance as a student and precocious nature as a child definitely enhanced his yearning for knowledge and led him in the direction of learning.

This connection with the academic world was expressed in another outlet: his founding of the International School in 1968.

“We began as the City School of Detroit and had 37 students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade,” he said, “and we were the first private school with a foreign language program in the U.S.”

The school moved to Southfield in 1981, and, under the continuing direction of Faxon, its headmaster, is now located in Farmington Hills and continues to attract discerning families.

Of the school, Faxon proudly noted that the present student body consists of children from around the world who are immersed in a curriculum that promotes multilingual studies, leading to increased cognitive development.

“We believe that in our increasingly global environment, the quality of success will be determined by one’s ability to understand and communicate with people from different cultures. Our multicultural, multiethnic environment looks ahead to the world of tomorrow, and we remain committed to foreign language proficiency in an academic setting that stresses the broad liberal arts as we advance into the future.”

Another connection of future to past is his lifelong love of theater. He was a theater usher and became an opera buff. He even related how an encounter with David DiChiera led to his helping to name Michigan’s opera.

“I was driving to Lansing with David and we were talking about how to get support for the opera company,” he said. “And I said to him: ‘Well, you know, David, I’m sure we can get support, but we should use Michigan in the name — Michigan Opera Theater. This way, everyone will associate the opera with the state. And that’s how MOT got its name.”

Faxon said he loved attending performances at the Met in New York and has been able to translate that love into real life by being on stage. He has performed as a singer and dancer in such venues as the Ford Auditorium in Detroit and off-Broadway at St. Marks Theater in New York. He noted with pride that one of his first roles at MOT in the late 1970s was Prince Orlofsky in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, and a recent performance showcased him as the godfather in The Nutcracker ballet. His opening nights were some of the most exciting of his life, he noted.

His dancing, speaking engagements and traveling from Michigan to New York are certainly keeping this spry 81-year-old on his toes. He still enjoys reading, getting together with former political colleagues, hosting artists and artistic performances, and welcoming friends to see his one-of-a-kind home. In his own words, “I haven’t retired from life just yet!”