Richard George May
The Message of Richard May’s Life
There is an ancient proverb that says, “our parents are our first teachers,” and I can say that my father Richard May was an excellent teacher because his life story conveyed a message that set a good example for not only myself but for all those whose lives he touched. Dad wrote his life to tell a story of a man who was determined to overcome obstacles and continuously improve himself to the very best of his ability, and as a result he was a successful man by many definitions of the word. But even in his passing, I realize that Dad is still teaching, because now—looking around this room—isn’t it obvious that Richard May’s life was meaningful to many people? And, we can clearly understand how Richard May’s life was meaningful, when we pause and consider the message of Richard May’s life.
The message of any man’s life is not written in a day; a random good deed or single kind gesture is a sentence, and many together make paragraphs and pages. To write our life’s message is to write the passions, perils, and personal experiences of a great novel, and that takes an entire lifetime. In the lifetime of Richard May, there were many people who shared in and helped to write the pages of his life. To his late father and mother, Hugh and Nan May, Richard grew from a typically rebellious boy to a responsible man who was devoted to his parents and honored his duty to them as their oldest child and son. Richard May always loved and respected his first teachers. To his brother Howard and sister Lisa, Richard spent a lifetime realizing and reveling in the bonds and understanding that are unique to brothers and sisters. For only a brother or sister understands how the childish arguments of yesterday mature over time into long distance telephone calls that end with, “I love you brother,” or “I love you Lee.” For his extended family in Michigan and Pennsylvania, Richard always had more love in his heart than opportunities to visit, yet always kept his aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews on his mind and in his heart. To his wife Rosemary, Richard would provide home, hearth, happiness and the plethora of emotions that God reserves for husbands and wives. And through it all, just days after their 40th wedding anniversary, Richard and Rosemary would exchange a note to each other that said, “You are the love of my life.” To his daughter Karen and son Rick, Dad was a tumultuous new beginning; however, people grow up, and as time passed, Karen and I learned to cherish the value of our time on this earth with Dad and the sacrifice made by our true father, and like the pages written that never make it to print, the painful memories were released. Finally, to his fellow veterans, many male and female apprentices and network of friends in Fraser, the Long Lake area, and throughout Michigan and the United States, Richard was a master electrician, an ethical electrical inspector, and an enigmatic combination of compliments that define a good man. He was a card player and a kind soul; a calculated expert in his field, with a heart that could be thoughtlessly generous. Powerful interests may not have understood or agree with him, yet Richard was a welcomed daily member of his local coffee club. All of this—all of these people—and all of their shared experiences—are included in the pages of Richard May’s life story.
And this story has many chapters, but what does it mean? How do we fully comprehend the message of Richard May’s life? If we stop to consider this, we will actually learn something about ourselves, for we are all stories being written, and it can be easy for any of us—out of innocence or ignorance or predisposition—to think we know someone when actually we do not. We know paragraphs and pages of people. For example, some of us know about the good or the bad of Richard May more than others. Some of us know about his costly generosity, or stubborn determination or even the peanut butter cups he enjoyed and wasn’t supposed to eat. We may have known intimately all the shortcomings of Richard May or may have enjoyed only the very best of his personality, but again we have to step back and look at the big picture—the entire story. Richard May’s perfections and imperfections are merely a few pages here or a couple paragraphs there; they are not the entire picture, nor the entire written story. This is a partial view—a few highlights or details—and is that how we understand a life’s message? Is that how we read a book?! Do we only read a few sentences of a page, or a few pages or chapters? Or, do we work from cover to cover, from beginning to end, to truly comprehend a great story and therefore appreciate it?
Some of us are familiar with a few paragraphs and pages of Richard May’s life story, but yet even for those of us who believed we knew Richard best, consider the message of his entire life and you may be surprised how inspiring is this novel of a man committed to doing the right thing the best way he knew how. Approaching this in the simplest way, consider the story Richard did not write. For example, Richard began his life as a rebellious boy, but did he continue with that and become a criminal element in society? During his military service in the United States Navy, was he an irresponsible and unreliable sailor who went AWOL and protested in Canada? From life’s failure or fear of failure, did Richard become a bitter, hateful man determined to spite others and spread misery? Professionally, was he quick to seek revenge upon his colleagues and competitors and then lie, deceive and mistrust? Did he see himself as a victim and ask what others could do for him, as a greedy, selfish man? Mom, did he ever quit you and the kids? It is easy for us to answer these questions because Richard knew who he was and what he was doing, and because the message of his life is really quite clear.
Look around this room and ask yourself what brings people here today to honor this man? As we grieve and mourn, let us not forget the message of Richard May’s life. Read this man’s story—the entire book—and you’ll learn about his tireless devotion to his wife and children and family, his dedicated love of country, his unstoppable willingness to teach others what he knew, his uncanny ability to humble himself and treat all people with dignity and respect, his unwavering attempts at self-improvement in the face of tremendous challenge, and his enduring motive to lead by example and follow those who did the same. The message of his life was one of sacrifice, duty, compassion, generosity, loyalty, dedication and—determination to overcome. Richard May had the tragic character flaws that we all suffer, but indeed his life had purpose and meaning that not all of us can honestly claim.
So we are all better for knowing him, and we will all miss him, but Richard would be the first one to say that there is always hope, and because we loved him as a family member, a friend, a trusted confidant, and as “Bear,” his message still helps to give our lives meaning. For though we may never see the messenger again, we will always have the message, and it is neither proprietary nor reserved. Like the unwritten pages of our life stories, also do we all have the chance every day to write the messages of our lives? Take Richard May’s example and ask yourself, “what is the message of my life?” It is that simple, and yet profound, because it was Richard May who asked himself that very question, answered it, and then lived it! As you walk around today, ask yourself, “what is the message of my life?” As you leave this service and drive back home, consider this. This afternoon, tomorrow morning, next Saturday night, or on your birthday 10 years from now—ask yourself, “what is the message of my life?” and then—answer it and live it, as did Richard May. Remember this messenger and his timeless message, and then continue to write your own message with substance and value. Learn from my first teacher. Continue your life’s story from here, today, as we pause and consider the message of Richard May’s life.