Retiring Simmons First National Corporation Chairman and CEO J. Thomas May was the guest of honor at a public reception Tuesday evening in the ballroom of the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
“Mr. May presented his retirement letter to the Simmons Board of Directors yesterday,” Board Chairman Harry L. Ryburn SAID. “I have read it, and read it and read it. Three sentences stand out. This is a direct quote: ‘I know God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve.’ Next: ‘To reiterate what Lou Gehrig said on the last day he played for the New York Yankees, I consider myself to be the luckiest man in the world.’ And finally: ‘I truly believe Simmons First National’s best days are ahead of it.’ ”
Ryburn said that in those words May expressed his humble, gracious nature and his faith in the future of the bank’s leadership under incoming CEO George Makris.
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth spoke briefly before reading an official city proclamation designating Dec. 10, 2013 as J. Thomas May Day in the City of Pine Bluff.
“I was asked to say a few words about Tommy May and my first question was how do you say just a few words about Tommy?” Hollingsworth said. “Two words come to my mind when I think of him: humble servant. We are placed on this earth to serve in many different capacities and Tommy May has served this community in so many ways.”
Jefferson County Judge Dutch King offered a heartfelt tribute to May.
“Mr. May, this is probably the hardest speech I have ever given, because I have so much respect for this man,” King said. “What you have done for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County is unbelievable. Your legacy, burning passion, desire and character is something that will burn in the hearts of the people of Pine Bluff forever.
“He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he,” King quoted Proverbs 16:20. “God blessed this community when he sent you here. You have made us all better people. You are without a doubt our Heisman Trophy winner.
“Aside from my daddy, who I loved dearly, you are the finest man I know,” King said with obvious emotion.
Dozens of people made their way into the ballroom to speak to May, all leaning in close to hear his faint yet powerful words.
Charles Dobis is the man who literally changed the course of May’s life when the two met as United States Marine Corps recruiter and restless recruit.
“I always say I gave him his first permanent job,” Dobis said with an unmistakable twinkle in his eye. “I was a recruiter down in El Dorado and this young man came up to me and I told him that I would change his life. He became a Marine and served in Vietnam. Years later I moved to Pine Bluff and went to Simmons. I saw the name Tommy May in the bank and I asked the teller if he was from El Dorado. She said that he was and pretty soon I was talking to him again face to face.”
Rev. David Fleming of First United Methodist Church said that he and his family are very thankful for all that May has done for the community.
“When we first arrived in Pine Bluff in 2009 one of the first things we did was go and open a bank account at Simmons,” Fleming said. “As luck would have it we actually met Mr. May at that time. He has done so much, including buying new computers for the Boys and Girls Club program that we have at our church. He is a very committed Christian and he does things that benefit all churches and schools and the rest of the community.”
Former Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. said May is always working for the betterment of the city.
“Tommy May is the kind of man that every community should have at least five of,” Redus said. “He is a true community servant and a man of high stature. While I was mayor he was always there for this community. Pine Bluff always comes first for him.”
Pine Bluff City Treasurer Greg Gustek said May has always been a strong backer.
“He has always been a good supporter of my campaigns and has always been a backer of our initiatives,” Gustek said. “If it is something that is positive for Pine Bluff, Tommy May has always been on board.”