Gustavson Column: Life before Southold for John May

I experienced a déjà vu moment the other day as I played tennis across the net from Paul May, one of the 11 children of Southold resident John May, who died Aug. 21 at the age of 87. Paul and I had been reacquainted at his father’s wake, when the subject of tennis inevitably arose. And that’s because John May was a nationally ranked senior tennis player up until the last few years of his life, and with a racquet in his hand Paul looks an awful lot like his dad. (Although he is the first to admit that John held a decided edge in their lifetime father-son tennis competition.)

If you read John’s obituary in the Aug. 27 edition of The Suffolk Times, you are well acquainted with his many accomplishments since moving to Southold more than 25 years ago — including those on the tennis court and at Peconic Landing, where he served as chairman of the board. And then, of course, there was John May, family man, whose survivors include his wife Elinor and their 11 children, 27 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

But what you did not read about John May — due largely to this newspaper’s fundamental pledge to “keep it local” — were his many professional accomplishments before moving to the North Fork. What follows is a (very) brief summary of those eventful years.

John was accepted at Dartmouth at age 16 but opted to attend the University of North Carolina because he could begin classes there the summer after he graduated from high school. He graduated with a degree in business in 3 1/2 years.

His first significant job was with the management consulting firm of William E. Hill & Co., where he specialized in mergers and acquisitions. One such deal involved his own Hill & Co. being acquired by Dunn & Bradstreet, where he then served as a senior officer and board member. During his career his notable clients included the Mormon Church, The Oakland (CA) Tribune and the Penn Central Rail Road.

In an e-mail prior to our tennis match, Paul May wrote: “There are hundreds of stories like this — including Leroy and Forrest Raffle’s small roast beef sandwich company that was then known at Raffel Brothers Roast Beef or RB’s and became Arby’s.”

Paul’s e-mail concluded: “After a few years when the business changed, he left D&B and joined TPF&C, later known as Towers Perrin and still later Towers Watson, where he again ran the management consulting and mergers and acquisitions businesses. He ‘retired’ at their mandatory retirement age but kept some clients and got new ones referred by his many business relationships and remained an active management consultant, investor in startup businesses and board member (Femco, Execor, InnRoad, and others) until his passing. He actually took on two new clients in the past year!”

So there you have it: proof positive, via the life of John May, that there is indeed life before Southold. Not to mention how fortunate Peconic Landing was to have available during its formative years a person of John May’s experience and expertise.

The author is the former co-owner and publisher of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].