Tommy May has long been an enthusiastic supporter of the mission of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. As May says frequently, support should not be passive, but instead active in the form of taking concrete steps to achieve a set of goals.

Tommy May has long been an enthusiastic supporter of the mission of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. As May says frequently, support should not be passive, but instead active in the form of taking concrete steps to achieve a set of goals.


May’s support also includes the development of friendships with university officials, notably with former UAPB Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr. and his late wife Ethel Davis.


"Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Davis became very close friends when I arrived in Pine Bluff 27 years ago," May said in a recent interview. "Dr. Davis’ leadership at UAPB was exceptional, and it was his positive attitude and influence that caused me to want to be more involved. Dr. Davis and Coach (Lee) Hardman were the primary drivers in getting George Walker, me and others involved in the new stadium. They were committed to ending 40 years of conversation about a new stadium and convert that conversation into action."


"Dr. Davis was directly responsible for getting then-Governor, Jim Guy Tucker to visit UAPB for a tour, but his hopes were that the governor would see some of the deplorable conditions of housing and infrastructure and support change," May said. "I was with Dr. Davis and the governor when it happened. There was never an ‘ask.’ Governor Tucker was visibly taken back by some of the conditions of this university and he committed over $30 million to make the needed change.


"My association with UAPB began with my arrival in Pine Bluff and the thought that as a bank president that I needed to be involved and my mentors certainly encouraged it," May said. "It then moved from simply being involved, to trying to make a difference when I joined the U of A Board and began to see how important UAPB was to the University system and to Pine Bluff. Mr. (W.E.) Ayres and Mr. (Louis) Ramsay were always involved, but as they always told me, "Get involved but make sure that we get involved to make a difference." Dr. Davis encouraged us to be involved and we have been for as long as I can remember.


"Today, I’m proud to say that with Dr. Davis’ retirement and my retirement, that Chancellor Laurence Alexander is the right person, at the right time, to expand the University and to make it better in every way possible," May said. "Also, Marty Casteel, Chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Bank, is now on the Board of Visitors at UAPB and very active in several activities that are currently a part of Chancellor Alexander’s new initiatives."


May’s tenure as a member of the University of Arkansas System Board brought him a great sense of pride.


"Being a member of the U of A Board was one of the greatest opportunities ever afforded me," May said. "I made some lifelong friends, and many of us still get together once a year to exaggerate about ‘how great we were as a board,’ fully realizing there is nobody there to disagree."


"Seriously, it truly was a great experience and very rewarding," May said. "I felt like the decisions we made were very important for higher education in general, and to the individual students in particular. I loved presenting diplomas at graduation each year, and I made it a practice to attend every graduation possible. I loved watching the smiles and excitement on the faces of the students and their families. It was a special time."


UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander offered his thanks for all that May has done for the university.


"Tommy May has been a huge supporter of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff through the years, both vocally and philanthropically," Alexander said. "He values the role the university plays in not only educating our future leaders, but also in uplifting the local community. Athletically speaking, he has been one of our most diehard fans, spearheading efforts to build Golden Lion Stadium, the J. Thomas May Field House and the Torii Hunter Baseball, Softball and Little League Complex. He also has led efforts to reward our championship athletic programs and coaches."


"When I arrived as the new chancellor at UAPB in July, I made it a point to quickly meet this icon of a man who has meant so much to so many people for decades," Alexander said. "All of us at UAPB wish him a long and happy retirement."


UAPB Athletic Director Lonza Hardy Jr. is grateful to May for his support of Golden Lion athletics.


"The name of J. Thomas May, in Pine Bluff and across the state of Arkansas, is a name synonymous with progress," Hardy said. "Through the years, Mr. May has been a torchbearer for bridging the gap between all sectors of our community. He has been an inspirational leader and a staunch advocate for helping to make Pine Bluff all that it can be."


"With the athletics program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, he has been instrumental in the modernization of our playing facilities and in our attempts to ensure that our teams are able to compete on a level playing field with our peer universities," Hardy said. "Mr. J. Thomas May is surely a living legend in this part of the country and we all wish him well in his retirement."


University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Chancellor G. David Gearhart offered his appreciation for May.


"Tommy is one of the finest human beings I have ever known," Gearhart said.


"He is generous, thoughtful, courageous and an inspiration to everyone, everywhere. He has provided the University of Arkansas incredible leadership as board chair and campaign volunteer. He has been generous to his alma mater and a role model for our students. There are not many people like Tommy May in the whole world," Gearhart said.


"We love him very much and have learned so much from him," Gearhart said. "He is our hero."


Former University of Arkansas System President B. Alan Sugg got to know May in his role as member of the U of A Board of Trustees.


He spoke during a retirement dinner held for May at the Pine Bluff Country Club in early December.


"On January 1, 2000, the University of Arkansas Razorbacks beat the University of Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas," Sugg said. "Now, we all know that Tommy is a huge Razorbacks fan, so you would have expected him to be at the game; but instead he was back in Pine Bluff in his office. The reason for that is that while he loves the Hogs, he loves Simmons and the people that work for the bank even more."


Sugg reminded the crowd that the game took place at a time when businesses were worried about potentially catastrophic computer problems that might occur as a result of "Y2K" with the changeover from 1999 to 2000.


"Since he was requiring his IT people to be at the bank all night on New Year’s Eve he wanted to be there with his troops," Sugg said.