What you probably know best about Fiscal Technician Gail May is her love for one particular hot pink bird, evident from the flamboyance of flamingos that inhabit her office. From a bobbling paperclip holder beside her nameplate to the large ceramic bird peeking at the door from the back wall, the neon bird is as much as part of her identity as her job title.
But you probably don’t know that 2016 marks May’s 41st year of dedicated service to JMU, despite a brief retirement from 2006-2008. May first started at JMU, then Madison College, at the age of 21 back in 1975. From unboxing food to answering the phones at Special Events and then to secretary to the Vice President in University Advancement, May carried one detail through all of her different titles and pay grades.
“I was always employee number 0459. The way the divisions reported never changed so whenever I moved around I always carried that little number on my back,” May said.
Now, most of the responsibility May undertakes as a Fiscal Technician involves consulting with and advising treasurers of front-end budgeted (FEB) student organizations. May must balance JMU’s vendor contracts with student needs and adhere to fiscal policy, collaborating with students to fund their organizations’ programming. For students like Emily Farmer, May means so much more than a weekly meeting to talk about their organization’s finance.
“Gail May was one of my favorite people at JMU, and leaving her made leaving the university that much harder,” Farmer said. Even after Farmer moved on from her Treasurer position with Student Ambassadors, she met with May every week during Mad4U’s Tea Time, to just talk about their lives. “She’s such an advocate for JMU students and Gail is a part of what makes JMU so exceptional!”
Students like Farmer aren’t the only ones to recognize this. When May announced her retirement in 2006, Joanne Carr, Vice President of University Advancement, nominated May for ‘staff emerita’ status.
“Faculty emeriti were common back then but the staff emerita distinction was pretty new. I remember asking ‘what’s that?’ and Joanne [Carr] told me ‘well, you get to keep your staff e-mail and you even get a lifetime parking pass’ . . . I never even learned why they nominated me!”
Though she might have never read the letter Joanne Carr wrote to President Linwood Rose, it no doubt persuaded him, as she proudly displays that lifetime parking pass on her convertible Miatta she bought to honor her retirement in 2006.
She might have then pursued a development job with the Shakespeare Center in Staunton, but two and a half years and a chance passing of her resume to Dr. Ray Sonner lead her to back to JMU in 2009. May points to the sense of home she always felt here that inspired her to come back after retirement.
“JMU’s done so much for me ever since I got here, even when I retired,” says the Fiscal Technician, who also operates on the Steering Committee for the Emeriti Association, which aims to keep emeritus and emerita alumni connected with one another and the university.
As an expert on financial policy and budgeting, May offers up a warm smile, guidance, and an office decorated in beaches and flamingos from her place within University Unions Finance. Behind that, though, is a staff member who has shown time and again her drive to connect students to the resources needed to succeed during their years here. Even if one of those resources turned out to be Gail May, herself.