Getting to Know You: Bill May

A column dedicated to the folks in the pews.

Written by Dale Buchanan

Stepping from the pews this time is Bill May. My first question was, “Bill, what brought you to Big Red?” His reply set the tone for the ensuing interview. He looked at me smiling with a twinkle in his eye, “Why, Dale, I came here because this church is open and affirming.” Until Bill and I sat down we were not acquainted. I knew he sings in the choir, we had said good morning a time or two, but this first response assured me that we were going to be friends. When lunch was finished and talking complete, I had a new friend at Big Red.

Born Horace William May in May, 1942, Bill and I missed sharing birthdays by just a couple of days. I had been thinking of him as a nice, old man only to discover that I am older by a few days than he is—which, of course, necessitates my reconsidering my notions about younger and older.

Bill’s surname May traces back into antiquity and Roman mythology. Maja was a Roman earth goddess and wife of Vulcan, and probably traces back to a root word translated, “She who is great.” His given names are equally interesting. The name Horace goes back to one of the most famous ancient Roman lyrical poets, and when spelled “Horus” the etymology takes us back to ancient Egypt and the Falcon god. His second name William is an old high German compound word: willeo (will or determination) and helm (protector and helmet). Literally: resolute protector.

When questioned about his parents, Bill’s first response was, “Dad was a jokester and loved tennis. The sport was his passion and his dream was for me to become a professional tennis player. I liked tennis all right, but my passion was music. I have often wondered how my life would be had Dad encouraged me as much in my music studies as he did in my tennis lessons.”

“My mom was a strong, midwestern woman, a devout Christian and famous for her home-cooked meals  An Indian baby drowned in the river and the community where Mom was born became Weeping Water, Nebraska. On a visit from California, Dad met her and they were married on Gospel Hill. Dad was forty-seven years old and Mom was thirty years old. She was married twenty years and lived a widow thirty years. She read to me!”

“I was an only child and grew up in many respects lonely. I guess I was what we today call a latchkey kid. My parents shared a great ambition for me to be successful in life. With their support I pursued my education from Kingsburg elementary and high school to Reedley Community College and finally graduated from Fresno State University with a degree in engineering. In 1967 I found myself with a wife and a position in upstate New York with Westinghouse. From New York we moved back to Central California and a long career in a construction related branch of Westinghouse. We were married seventeen years and blessed with two sons.

It seems to this reporter that at some point inspired by the music he loves, Bill found his true calling and spent the last fifteen years before retirement teaching emotionally disturbed children ages seven to twelve. Even today when he speaks of music there is a sense of joy and happiness in his telling that seems to have always been with him from the marching band in high school, to the California Opera choir, to an active part in a local band, and to participation in the choir at Big Red. Music has been and no doubt always will be Bill’s motivation and life force.

Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.

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