Martin, Anne, and Abe King (Scott’s grandfather) outside King Jewelers, Salt Lake City, 1912
It’s going to be a big year for philanthropist Maxine King. In 2012, she’ll celebrate the 100th anniversary of King Jewelers, the family business she had a strong hand in carrying through to its fourth generation. What’s more, she’ll welcome (that’s an understatement) the birth of her first grandchild. While King says there are few things she enjoys more than working alongside her family each day—the two stores in Aventura and Nashville are stocked with luxury brands including Cartier, Hublot, and Jaeger LeCoultre—there is another passion that occupies a considerable amount of space in her life: charitable causes. In addition to giving generously, the King family is constantly hosting fundraisers at its 7,800-square-foot store, which not coincidentally has a stocked bar and a full kitchen. We sat down with King to discuss her role as a prominent businesswoman and humanitarian in South Florida and how philanthropy here continues to evolve.
How did you get involved in philanthropy? MAXINE KING: Growing up in Wayne, New Jersey, my parents wouldn’t have been considered wealthy by today’s standards. But they were always comfortable, and they told me it wasn’t necessary to be wealthy to give to the poor. I remember being about 10 years old and sitting with my father at the kitchen table. He was putting money inside a brown envelope stamped with a picture of a Native American and I asked, “Why?” He told me, “If someone asks for help, you should always give.” Both my parents always believed in charity at every level, and they raised us to think the same.
So it must have been pretty important for you to instill that in your own kids. How did you do it? MK: When the boys were young, we’d take them to Camillus House to hand out sandwiches or we’d wake up at 6 AM and head to Miami Beach to feed the homeless. And of course, we’ve always had tzedakh boxes around the house and the boys would regularly contribute some of their allowances. It must have worked! Both my sons stayed involved in different causes throughout high school and college. And when David, who’s 34, went to Nashville three years ago to open our new store, he learned the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt didn’t have a foundation. So he spent tireless hours in early morning meetings and stayed up late at night to get one started. And Jono, 32, is constantly holding charity auctions for victims of natural disasters.
It seems King Jewelers isn’t the only family effort to continue through generations. Tell me about Pap Corps. MK: My husband Scott’s grandmother helped start Pap Corps on Miami Beach to detect and find a cure for ovarian cancer. At the time, it was a small group of women. Now there are chapters throughout Miami- Dade and Palm Beach County, and we’re aligned with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
With so many worthwhile causes, which ones capture the bulk of your attention these days? MK: When it comes to cancer or children, I have a hard time saying no. My mother died of breast cancer at age 57, and I’d like to see a cure in my lifetime. As for children, I can’t bear the thought of a child being sick or hungry. These days, I’m also passionate about animals. I never let my kids have a dog, but now they’re grown and we’ve been very involved with the Humane Society. We started a line of jewelry for dogs called Fancy Bones, and donated to the organization a portion of the proceeds.
There must be some incredibly proud moments.What stands out most? MK: We’ve always worked hard for the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center here [in Hollywood, Florida]. And Mel Dick from Southern Wine & Spirits wanted to ship from Poland one of the train cars that had been used to transport Jewish people to the concentration camps. Over 400 guests came out that night, and a Holocaust survivor spoke about her experiences, urging us to keep the memory alive. It was overwhelming to see people reaching into their pockets this way.
How do you think Miami measures up to other cities in terms of charitable giving? MK: There are people here who truly believe in their causes and are in it 100 percent. They work very hard to raise money and make the events successful. They put in the time and money. And then there are people who join charities for the social experience, to see their names on letterheads and invitations. It’s a good thing because it raises awareness for a cause. But hopefully when people look at the magazine photographs, they’ll also see the message behind the pictures. I just like to make sure that if we’re going to host a fundraiser in our shop, the board members are there to support their own organizations.
It sounds like there isn’t a single organization you’d turn away. MK: With the exception of Israel, I don’t give to charities outside of this country. One time, a fighter pilot was in the store buying a $5,000 Breitling watch. He was just back from Afghanistan and told me he’d started a foundation there to help children. I couldn’t participate, I explained, because I want to start with the people here, in our country. And I feel strongly about that.
What is the future of philanthropy in South Florida? MK: I think the idea of giving has become more stylish, and the people who support causes are younger than ever. Probably in part because giving is something that was instilled by their parents, and also because younger people are more affluent these days. But regardless, at the end of the day, helping other people makes you feel good.