For his entire adult life, from his graduation from Rochester until his death in September at the age of 95, Bill May distinguished himself as a business leader, a fundraiser, and a leader in education. At Rochester, he served with distinction as a trustee since he was first elected in 1965. A chemical engineer who presided over the American Can Company during a long period of growth and transformation in the 1960s and 1970s, Bill was also an arts advocate who served on the board of the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts and founded the Film Society of Lincoln Center. From 1971 to 1986, he served as director of the New York Times Company, and later served as chairman and chief executive officer of the Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation.
But despite his many great accomplishments and different roles, Bill made all of us feel like we were friends with him on a first-name basis. He would meet faculty, students, and department chairs, and place them instantly at ease with his abundant charm, optimism, humor, and friendliness.
As a member of the what’s now the Hajim School of Engineering Advisory Board, on which he served for many years, Bill traveled to campus at least once a year, at his own expense, to help improve programs and set goals. His knowledge of industry, universities, and not-for-profits—all gained from years of experience in leadership roles in each sector—provided an invaluable perspective that few others could match.
On a few occasions, I tried to express just how much we appreciated his involvement, and how honored we were to have the May Professorship at Rochester. He deflected the issue with his usual good-natured smile and natural grace, and returned to the issues facing the Hajim School. Those of us who benefitted from Bill’s advice and conversation will miss him greatly, but at the same time are profoundly grateful for his time with us.
Parker is the William F. May Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and dean emeritus at the Hajim School, and a professor of radiology and of biomedical engineering at the School of Medicine and Dentistry.