Jose “Joe” May and I had many nexus points of interest that became a precursor to our very private friendship over the years, from July, 1978, to literally the day he died in 2006.
Hard to believe by the calendar that it has been ten years since his death. Hardly a day or week that goes by that I don’t think of my dear friend.
We learned early on that we both went to Martin High School in Laredo. He was about three years younger than me, so we did not know each other then in the short two and half years I lived in Laredo. But, as many will surely testify, a Laredo bond is real and permanent. Second, we both attended East Texas State, now Texas A&M University-Commerce. We both earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from that little school in Commerce, from which my family comes. I still call it home, even though I was not born there.
I want to write about the Joe May I knew, the one possibly few knew about. We were very close and in fact he was my first Mexican American client for public relations purposes. He had specific objectives and we achieved the results. Joe was very careful not to talk or be perceived as bragging about his military record. I know he won a Bronze Star and perhaps a Silver Star as well. In Viet Nam he was a long-range reconnaissance patrol soldier. I believe Joe pronounced it as “Lerp”. He explained to me that his mission was to go way outside the perimeter of where his platoon was located and draw the topography of the land. In essence, he was a demographer of sorts, which included land and people and potential traps. This experience had a profound impact on him and led to his many years of drawing political districts for Hispanics, by hand, in both local and school board elections and in state and federal districts. His maps were the basis of various districts to come. He was an expert.
Joe was so passionate. We would have a beer or two (or more) and discuss politics for hours. In his family home in Laredo there was a cement back yard to hold rallies. His mother’s milk of life was politics, following in his father’s footsteps. He sought to represent the people, regardless of position. His passion was legendary…and so was his quick tempter. Always legally single, he had a long term loving relationship to a lovely lady. Very pretty, too. And contrary to his public image, he was a generous sole who fed on a daily basis somewhere between 20 to 30 cats at all the homes I knew. One example of our private friendship: He would not run his air conditioning when we would meet and he met in his shirtless shorts, and the stench from the cats was real. I complained, loudly. It did not make a difference.
The thing I remember most is we would talk for hours in the early 90s on Saturday night by phone at our respective homes developing strategy, often publicly on different sides but attempting to reach the same goals, more inclusion of Mexican Americans. We had the same friends but often kept our friendship private because often, as noted, we were not on the same side. We shared what we could without compromising our other commitments.
I spoke to him the day he died. The Dallas Morning News’ Spanish language newspaper was doing a feature on him and I was living in McAllen in South Texas then. He wanted me to share additional information about him. It was a shock that I learned later that evening that he had died. I cried. Hard. I had to go to Washington, D.C. And was unable to attend any ceremonies. But his soul was in my prayers.
His dedication to his friends and family was real. So was his temper but it cooled quickly in his heart as he would just as quickly laugh. His blinking eye would start to twitch. I think he needed glasses. But the fact is the likes of a Joe May crosses your path only once…if you are so lucky.
We changed the lines of districts…one in particular to protect Cadillac Heights in East Oak Cliff to be moved into District 2 for the City of Dallas. It was the magic and creativity of Joe May that accounted for that some years – almost 26 – ago.
The public record will detail his accomplishments but we had some victories and some losses. We tried to get a supermarket chain on Ross Avenue but it failed. Caused quite a stir, however. A few years earlier than that he got into a “mock” fight with his dear friend Al Gonzalez in the City Council library. I had asked, nay, beseeched Joe to stay cool as I was going to South Padre Island by myself to chill for a few day. At 6:30 a.m. the next morning one of our friends called to say Joe got out of hand and punched Al who was a Dallas City councilman at the time. The irony, they did many “deals” together and were very good friends. Al was still not well so it was more of a love tap or so I was told.
So many times we spent in our favorite haunts from Joe Miller’s to Louie’s to various Mexican food restaurants. He was quick to provide excellent counsel politically for African Americans and Latinos. How to fight the system. He worked for the federal government but had amassed an extensive portfolio, primarily in real estate. But always he drove old cars and dressed professionally but modestly.
Joe May had keen intelligence, a sly, wicked wit and a network of chisme that would not quit. Between the two of us we knew most of what was going on in those years in Dallas. We laughed a lot. And when he named the school in Dallas for a very famous doctor in Laredo, Dr. Leo Cigarrora, there was later a reception to honor him on a top of the Laredo National Bank, now owned by BBVA. He beamed at the recognition he received in honoring a person of great reputation in Laredo in Dallas. He was always bringing his Laredo roots to Big D.
Joe was a character. I cherished that about him. So special in his love of people. He was slim and I begged him to quit smoking and he was working on it. He was drinking less and spending more time working and doing his work on the school board…his only elected office. But I would find him in Austin working on maps or in Dallas, working on maps. We would go over the lines and the little areas of people that he would surgically bring together or split apart. Now all this is done by computer, even then more of it was trending that way. I am sure he would have adapted.
Joe would still be a young man even today. We all miss him. But for those that follow, remember what he gave you. And exercise your vote to honor his life. He worked so hard for Latinos to have an equal vote and an equal voice. I remember that many people without papers went home in 1986. He said they would be back. You see, Joe was right about so many things. He has to be above, chuckling. But his spirit flows within us all…those who knew and loved him and for many of those whose lives he touched and you did not know him. Viva Jose May.