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John M. May of Southold dies; former business and civic leader was 87

Southold's John M. May, seen in a 2009

Southold's John M. May, seen in a 2009 file photo, was known for his management skills, which helped shape institutions across Long Island. He died Friday, Aug. 21, 2015 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, his family said. Photo Credit: Robert Syron

John M. May, a Southold resident whose management skills helped shape institutions across Long Island, died Friday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan after a brief illness, his family said. He was 87.

Over 60 years, May worked as a management consultant specializing in mergers and acquisitions, equity investor, business professor and a member of several corporate boards, according to the website of Peconic Landing, a Greenport retirement community where he was chairman of the board of directors.

He was also generous with his business acumen, friends and family said, as he volunteered his time on the boards of Peconic Landing, Long Island University, Eastern Long Island Hospital, Peconic Health Corp. and the finance and cemetery committees of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

"He was not a spectator," said ex-Rep. Tim Bishop, May's friend for more than 30 years. "He was a guy who threw himself into lots of things, and was a really, really active participant in the life of every community he was a part of."

Mal May, the third of his 11 living children, said, "My dad was the smartest man I've ever known. He was the most aware and interested and interesting." At the end, he continued to ask perceptive questions about his children and grandchildren's lives. "He was interested in everyone else. He never stopped giving of himself," the Castro Valley, California, resident said.

Born in New York City, he was raised on the Jersey Shore. He'd have to fetch tennis balls that guests of his parents hit over the fence, stopping whatever he was doing, whether studying or sleeping, Mal May said.

He received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a varsity member of a championship tennis team.

In 1949, he and his wife, Elinor, to whom he was married for 65 years, moved to Long Island. They would live in Levittown, Roslyn and Old Westbury before moving to Southold in 1989.

Bishop, a Democrat who represented Southampton, said they became friends when May was on the board of Long Island University and Bishop was an administrator at the university's Southampton College. May hosted one of the first fundraisers for Bishop when he first ran for Congress in 2002, and went on to send the congressman "well thought-out, well argued" position papers on a variety of issues, Bishop said.

The two played tennis and collaborated closely on a comprehensive plan for the college in the early 1980s.

May continued to play tennis competitively into his 80s and at one point was ranked 21st nationally among players older than 80 by the United States Tennis Association, his son Paul May of Mineola said in an email.

"He had a real impact on me, as he did on scores and scores of people, hundreds of people," Bishop said.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, May is survived by the couple's other children, Rob of upstate Garrison, Jeff of Galloway, New Jersey, Kathy May of Newbury, Massachusetts, Barbara Mahoney of Bayville, Joan May of Telluride, Colorado, Nancy May of Southold, Pete of Old Westbury, Jack of South Freeport, Maine, and Suzy West of Guilford, Vermont; sisters Jackie Woolley and Jill Lundberg; 27 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

May was preceded in death by his first son, Danny, who died as a baby.

Visitation will be Wednesday and Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold. Services will be Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Mary's Church in Roslyn. Burial will be at St. Patrick's Cemetery on Bayview Road in Southold.

Donations may be made to the May Foundation, an organization founded by John and Elinor May to support children, education, social issues and the environment. Donations can be sent to 17638 Trenton Dr., Castro Valley, CA 94546.

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