Theophalis & Mary May
|Born|| March 20, 1927|
|Died||February 26, 2006|
|Occupation||Architect, builder, minister|
|Spouse||Mary May (1967)|
|Parents||Lumon and Ivory Johnson May|
May was born on March 20, 1927 in Castleberry, Alabama. His mother died when he was only nine days old. His father, a strawberry farmer, died five years later, after which Theophalis moved to Pensacola to live with relatives. He began working odd jobs at age nine and later joined the Navy, serving as a cook. He attended Florida A&M University after leaving the military and graduated with a degree in philosophy and religion.
Reverend May began work in construction in 1950. He built and maintained Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on West Blount Street, where he served as pastor for 38 years. His company, May's Construction Company, became renowned for moving, demolishing and restoring historic buildings. Some of his projects included:
- The L&N Marine Terminal Building (which May completely disassembled, moved and rebuilt without benefit of blueprints)
- Rafford Hall
- The Imogene Theatre in Milton
- The Walton House
- Moreno Cottage
- The Tivoli High House
- The Dorr House
Author Linda Shiell wrote of May, "Without photographs, without markers, without pencils or blueprints or an architect’s advice, Theophalis May has taken apart, relocated, and accurately reconstructed historic Pensacola landmarks to the amazement and delight of preservationists and citizens. His expertise is not certified by a college degree. His education has been by the hand-hewn board, by the cut of a saw, and the wisdom earned by someone whose experience has taught him that excellence in craftsmanship is simply knowledge, hard work, and patience, lots of patience."
May was also known for his construction and spiritual work in low-income areas of Pensacola. Some of his renovation projects in neglected or crime-ridden areas, like a house at De Soto and L Streets, have been citing as spurring neighborhood revitalization on a larger scale. Theophalis and his wife, Mary, were married for 38 years. Their seven children, whose names all begin with L, would later form a charitable organization called The 7-L's, which they credit to the spirit of civic duty instilled in them by their father. Son Lumon May recalled that his father would frequently offer construction jobs to young men he saw hanging out on street corners, and if they refused, he'd break off a nearby switch to end their loitering. "Dad always said when we were growing up, If you can't change your neighborhood, then you can't change the world. I believe that. You have to start block by block."
Reverend May received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1991 and was honored by the City of Pensacola in 2005 for "Dedicated Commitment in Affordable Housing." He died of emphysema on February 26, 2006. His son, LuTimothy May, replaced him as pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
- "Pensacola man had heart for building." Pensacola News Journal, March 2, 2006.
- "Master craftsman leaves legacy of restoring buildings and lives." March 4, 2006.
- "What's Going On?" Independent News, May 8, 2008.