For much of 1998, Elaine May Attridge was tired. She was a single mom with an infant child and a job – two things that often correlate with but a few hours of sleep each night.
One night that year, Attridge called her parents in Loudoun County from her home in Charlottesville. More than anything, Attridge called for support; for that warm assurance that, while life might be tough at the moment, everything would be OK.
The phone call lasted a few hours. Elaine’s parents, Joe and Bobby May, passed the phone back and forth to one another. Elaine had been talking with her mom for a couple hours when there was a knock on the door. She opened it. There stood the comfort she was searching for. It was her dad.
“They both knew I could use a good night’s sleep, and would find the help supportive,” Elaine recently told the Times-Mirror. “This memory has stayed with me not only because my dad did a good job of feeding, changing and dressing [her son] Will, but because I didn’t have to ask for the help.”
It’s one gesture, just one night that tells the story of why Joe May is good for the people of Loudoun and good for the Commonwealth of Virginia. It’s a sentiment parents can understand. You hear hurt in the voice of your child, and you’ll do anything to ease it.
A gentleman. Curious. Brilliant. Kind and giving. These are words used to describe May by those who know him well. An admired father, grandfather and husband, model public servant and ingenious businessman, May has been selected as the Loudoun Times-Mirror’s Person of the Year for 2012.
A professional engineer who holds 22 patents and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates for nearly two decades, May embodies what people look for in an elected official, Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th) says.
“Joe May has the civility and honor of Robert E. Lee, the intellectual curiosity and brilliance of Thomas Edison, and the steadfastness of Abraham Lincoln,” Minchew said. “At a time when we see too much divisive partisanship and incivility, May’s career shows us there is still room for Virginia gentlemen in politics.”
Indeed, May is a statesman in the truest form, says Del. Tom Rust (R-86). Rust and May have formed a strong partnership in their 10-plus years together in Richmond, working on Northern Virginia-specific issues of transportation and technology.
Rust calls May a throwback legislator, one who cares only about serving his constituents and the commonwealth. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, Rust says, May just wants to solve problems.
May stays largely out of headlines. He doesn’t make political statements for political statements’ sake. His Wikipedia page is all of four sentences, noteworthy considering he’s been in public life since 1994 and oversees a multi-million dollar company.
The western Loudoun resident is one of the most intellectually sound and well-respected figures in the statehouse, his colleagues say. His thinking is innovative, nontraditional. The chair of the House’s Transportation Committee and a member of the Appropriations and Science and Technology committees, May knows there’s almost always multiple ways to do something.
“I’ve always tried to problem solve and find answers,” May said. “I’ve always felt that, no matter how big or small a problem is, we were elected to look for answers.”
Neither time nor space allows for a thorough review of May’s legislative accomplishments. When asked a few he’s specifically proud of, he mentions patroning the Rural Rustic Road Program that allows the Virginia Department of Transportation for “pave-in-place,” which May says saves the charming characteristics of western Loudoun countryside, as well as submitting legislation to establish the House’s Science and Technology Committee.
May has been named Legislator of the Year by the Virginia Soil, Water and Conversation Districts, the Virginia Cable and Telecommunications Association, the Virginia Biotechnology Association and Virginia Transit.
“As one of only two professional engineers in the General Assembly,” Minchew said, “Del. May has brought a scientific and analytical approach to public policy. He has provided great leadership to Loudoun’s growing technology industry in the General Assembly allowing for sound business and technology industry growth to occur.”
Loudoun County has changed more than a little in the 19 years since May was first elected to the legislature. And the Virginia-born-and-bred May has been integral in ushering in and smoothing the transformation for what is now the richest county in the nation and home to a corridor known as “Data Center Alley.” This has been achieved while maintaining the picturesque countryside in the western half of the county, home to D.C. Wine Country.
Still, May is slow to boast about a single accomplishment during a December interview in his Sterling office. His legislative assistant, Nancy Duke, is on hand – thankfully – to recall just how much he’s done through the course of his career.
Duke notes how May has judged history and science fairs for local schools, served as a chief umpire for little league baseball, studied American history, flown helicopters, served on numerous county boards … become an orchardist, worked on furniture restoration, published articles on World War II ... You get the point.
It becomes a cliché with pundits, but May indeed seems to transcend politics.
Rather than legislative accomplishments and accolades, May would prefer to talk about his family, his grand kids, or his recent history project – documenting the stories of several fallen soldiers from his hometown area of Broadway, Va., on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.
May’s attention to detail and sharp mind have served him well outside of Richmond, as well.
At Electronic Instrumentation and Technology (EIT), the company he founded with his wife in 1977, May now serves as chairman and chief technology officer. EIT provides electronic manufacturing and engineering services for the medical, communications, industrial process control and analytical instrument markets.
Included in May’s list of patents are a signature reproduction machine, an instrument to measure the curvature of railroad tracks – standard in today’s railroad industry – and the instrument used for measuring octane on gasoline. May highlighted the octane measuring instrument as one of his proudest feats.
In 2009, May was inducted into Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Academy of Engineering Excellence, an honor bestowed upon only 90 engineering alumni out of more than 50,000.
An intellectual curiosity drives May’s thought, his career and his politics. Moreover, a curiosity for life drives his outlook.
“‘No one ever has an excuse to be bored,’ he always says,” his wife, Bobby May, said.
Married now for 50 years, Bobby May said her husband has always seen life as an adventure. In addition to Attridge, the two have another daughter, Beth May, who lives in Minnesota.
Bobby May said she loves that her husband is “always signing me up for things,” be it scuba diving, umpiring softball or, 35 years ago, starting EIT.
“I studied early education, I didn’t know anything about business,” Bobby May said. “But he just looked at me and said ‘we can do this.’”
Both Bobby May and her daughter said the delegate’s zest for inquiry, for the world around him and for understanding people is something that makes him special.
May remains bright, active and healthy at age 75. When the time comes that he can’t do the business of the people in Richmond, he’ll readily step down, he says. But that hasn’t crossed his mind just yet. There’s still too much to do. Too many projects to complete. Too many questions to ask and answers to find.
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