January 31st, 2014
I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t said something kind about Art May, former President of Memorial. Dr. May passed away this week and what is sure to be a large funeral service is scheduled for early next week. An Officer of the Order of Canada, Dr. May enjoyed a career marked by extended involvement in public life, including Deputy Minister (of Fisheries) with the Government of Canada. Almost every appointment he served was related in one way or another to the sea. A marine scientist by training, Dr. May also enjoyed a long history with the Canadian Navy. It is not surprising, then, that one of the achievements of Dr. May’s tenure as Memorial president was bringing the Marine Institute into the Memorial family. It wasn’t exactly a shotgun marriage but as with all such transitions it took some finessing. Dr. May was good that way. He had a quiet strength, absolutely steely when he wanted something done, but his style was understated—quietly persistent. Ultimately, he succeeded, of course, as with almost anything he put his mind to.
Perhaps that’s why almost everyone I have talked to in the last two days mentions the word “gentleman” to describe him. No one uses that word lightly and we all know what it means, from the women who served me soup today in the café to colleagues who worked closely with him. He always gave that impression. Dr. May’s style was never brassy or obviously pushy. If he were angry or ecstatic you never really knew. He contained his emotions. It might have made those closest to him crazy, but that’s probably why he was such a successful civil servant. He always presented as a rational, thoughtful leader, agree with him or not. And he listened well, with courtesy and respect for others. Once I made an appointment with him to explain something I thought he might misunderstand. The details aren’t important now, but I recall how terribly important the issue was to me then. I also now appreciate that the matter was likely of slight importance to him and I need not have taken up any of his time with it, but he was typically patient and respectful. He could have easily patronized me but he didn’t. When I realized how trivial the matter was I respected him even more.
Last year I sat on a committee with him. He started looking much more frail than I had remembered him, but his mind was as sharp as ever and he was fully engaged with the project—to the end totally dedicated to serving Memorial’s mission and contributing his experience and expertise to the cause.
I am sure that we will hear much more about Dr. May’s career accomplishments and personal attributes at the funeral service, a service that has arrived much too early for those of us who can still hear with fondness his grizzly voice in our ears.