Thomas E. May, 76, of Somerdale, founder and owner of May Funeral Homes, former investigator for the Camden County Medical Examiner’s Office, senior pastor at Camden’s Tabernacle of Faith Church of God in Christ, and Army veteran, died Sunday, May 8, of liver failure at home.
Pastor May opened his first funeral home in Camden in 1975, and today May Funeral Homes also operates in Pennsauken, Vineland, Willingboro, Sicklerville, and Philadelphia. Three of his five children — son Tyrone, and daughters Tina and Toni — and his wife, Hazel, worked with him, and the family viewed the daily collaboration as a bonus to their already fulfilling home life.
“Our father was the most loving, kind, caring and giving person we’ve ever known,” said his daughters, Tina May and Toni May-Jervey, in a statement.
Pastor May was an investigator for the Camden County Medical Examiner’s Office in the 1980s. He joined the Tabernacle of Faith Church of God in Christ in 1981, served in a variety of leadership roles and was installed as senior pastor in 2015.
He was, among other things, the church’s director of music, head of the ministry for married couples, prayer leader, treasurer, chairman of the board of trustees, and chairman of many committees. “He was such a caring, loving, humble, decent man,” a friend said in an online tribute. “He left an amazing legacy behind. No one will ever fill his shoes.”
Pastor May was born March 1, 1946, in Camden and attended Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Haddonfield as a boy. He starred in football, baseball and wrestling at Cherry Hill High School, now Cherry Hill West, graduated in 1964, and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1994.
He played football and wrestled on an athletic scholarship at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and graduated in 1969. He entered the Army in 1969, was stationed in Germany, served as the operations officer for mortuaries in Europe, and was honorably discharged as a captain in 1972.
He met Hazel Williams in a dentist’s office in 1965. They married in 1969, lived in Somerton and had son Tyrone and daughters Tonya, Terri, Tina, and Toni.
Pastor May began his training for funeral services in 1964 at Camden’s Carl Miller Funeral Home and graduated from the New York-based American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in 1969. He went on to become a member of several professional associations, including the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association.
At church, he was on the executive board of the International Council of Pastors and Elders of the Church of God in Christ for 12 years, served as council treasurer for eight years, and was a member of the church’s South Jersey Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction.
Generous and community-oriented, Pastor May and his wife funded a variety of educational, religious and humanitarian scholarships, including sponsorships of an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and a program at Rowan University to assist underprivileged students.
“If he knew you were in need, he would do whatever he could to help,” his family said.
He was a talented singer, performed often at church services, weddings, and funerals, and played piano for the Sunday school choir at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Magnolia.
He liked to fish, play golf, cruise, and traveled to more than 70 countries. He took his children and grandchildren to the zoo and amusement parks, and cheered loudly at their sports events.
“Wonderful man. Beautiful family. Fantastic life well lived,” a friend said in a tribute.
“My husband was simply the greatest man I’ve ever known,” said his wife. “His love and generosity to myself, his family and his community was like nothing I’ve ever known.”
In addition to his wife and daughters, Pastor May is survived by 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, two sisters, a brother, and other relatives. His son, a sister, and three brothers died earlier.
Pastor May will lie in repose from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Tabernacle of Faith Church of God in Christ, 115 N. Fifth St., Camden, N.J. 08102. A viewing is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, May 22, at Impacting Your World Ministries, 2901 Chapel Ave. W., Cherry Hill, N.J. 08002. A celebration of life is to follow. Entombment is to be at 10 a.m. Monday, May 23, at Harleigh Cemetery, 1640 Haddon Ave., Camden, N.J. 08103.
Donations in his name may be made to the Thomas E. May scholarship fund, 335 Sicklerville Rd., Sicklerville, N.J. 08081.