A Life Lived: Billy May, ‘a gentle soul,’ who loved children, enjoyed giving

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2020

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Billy Gene May’s sister described him as a “gentle soul,” who loved children. “He always kept candy in his pockets, for the children,” said his sister, Ina Briggs.
“In the past he played Santa Claus at Christmas for his nephews and nieces, and when they were little, he would ride them on his back,” said Ina.
May was one of four children of John “Ed” and Lillie B. Grindstaff May. He lived on Stoney Creek in a house built next door to his mother and father. “My mother was born in a house on that property in 1911 and lived there all her life. My brother built a house on one side of my parents, and my husband, Joel, and I built on the other side. Bill was a hard worker. He worked at Mapes Piano Strings and on the side he raised tobacco,” said Ina.
Billy Gene May died October 6 at the age of 85.
Both, Ina and Bill’s daughter, Tonya Milam, described him as a great caregiver. “He helped care for his mother and father and then, my mother when she became sick. When my grandfather was in the nursing home he spent every Saturday and Sunday at the nursing home, caring for him. When my mother became too ill to stay at home and was placed in a nursing home, my dad visited her every day and spent time with her,” said Tonya. “He was a wonderful caregiver.”
May and his wife, Judy, were married 57 years before she died in 2017.
Tonya said her father in his earlier years was a Boy Scout leader and a 4-H volunteer. “I think he did the volunteer work because he enjoyed being around kids. His meat-cutting class at 4-H camp was one of the most popular at the camp,” Tonya shared with a laugh.
May was also a long-time supporter of St. Jude Hospital in Memphis.
The pride and joy of May’s life was his granddaughter, Lily Catherine, who is now 19 years old. “He taught her to shoot a gun and fish. They had some great times together,” shared Tonya. He was also very fond of his neices and nephews, and enjoyed taking them fishing.
In his spare time May enjoyed woodworking. He made furniture and small items like clocks, bread boxes, shoe shine boxes, and book cases. “He never sold any of his work. He mostly made the items for gifts. When I was young, he made me a hope chest, which I still have,” said Tonya.
Ina said her brother liked to tell stories. “He always had a funny story to tell,” she said.
May and his sisters were close. For the past three years, he and Ina and another sister, Barbara Mick, had dinner together each Wednesday. Another sister, Patricia DiFranco, lives in Rock Hill, S.C. Also, for the past few years, Ina had fixed supper for him, something she now misses.
May was a veteran, serving two years in the U.S. Army. “He spent his time in Alaska, and loved it, I think because of the outdoor opportunities there,” said Tonya.
May was a collector of knives and baseball caps. A cap from one of his favorite teams was placed in his casket.
He and his wife for many years attended Hunter United Methodist Church, but after his wife’s death he began attending worship at Range Christian Church with his daughter and her family. “He was a great Christian and a man of principles,” said Ina.
“We were very fortunate, my sisters and I, to have Bill as a brother. He always was there for us and had our backs. He grew up a farm boy and remained a farm boy all his life,” said Ina.
“I wasn’t ready for him to go. I have good memories of him.”
Perhaps Stephen King described the loss of Billy May’s life to his family when he wrote this verse describing autumn: “But when rain comes, kicking summer out as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you miss. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
Yes, when the wind blows the autumn leaves, Ina Briggs and her sisters will always lovingly remember their brother, Bill, as will his daughter and granddaughter.

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