Major Phillip May

November 1, 1948October 8, 2017
Play Tribute Movie Play Tribute Movie

Major Phillip May, age 68, of Atlanta, Georgia, died on October 8, 2017 at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta. A memorial service will be held on November 4, 2017, at 2 p.m. at H.M. Patterson & Sons, Oglethorpe Hill Chapel, 4550 Peachtree Road NE, Brookhaven GA 30319, with Father Paul McCabe officiating. Visitation and reception to follow. He is survived by his brother, Stephen William “Billy” May III (Terri) of Sawyerville, Alabama, and three nieces, Stephany Elliott LaPina (Michael), Christina Brooks Mitchell, Emily Elisabeth Vansant (Scott), their children, and many other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, Stephen William May, Jr. and Mary Lou Watson May. Phil May was born on November 1, 1948 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He grew up on his family’s farm west of Sawyerville. He was educated in the Greensboro school system and the University of Montevallo. He received his commission as an officer in the U.S. Air Force in 1971 and served as a member of the Alabama National Guard from 1971 to 1983. Although he became involved in politics and government early on, most of his professional career involved emergency management at both state and national levels. In 1981 he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as Administrator, Region IV, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), responsible for the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He also served as regional administrator under presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Phil May joined FEMA with the desire to serve others. Following Hurricane Frederick’s strike on Alabama in 1979, he served as Congressman Jack Edwards’ liaison to the FEMA office. Two years later, in 1981, he was appointed as the FEMA Region IV Director, and served in that position until 1994. He assumed his second tour as Region IV director on October 15, 2006, until he retired in July 2014. Phil oversaw numerous disasters during his tenure at FEMA, including leading the response and recovery to Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew, the Kentucky ice storm (2009), Tennessee Floods (2010), and the tornadoes that occurred in Georgia (2008), Mississippi (2010), and Alabama (2011). Phil was a supportive, caring, and compassionate leader, and a kind and gentle man who always found the good in people. He became a friend and mentor to many of the FEMA Region IV staff and others who worked closely with him. Throughout his time with FEMA, Phil enthusiastically guided the development of both people and programs. Among many others, his mark was left on FEMA when he established the first Regional Hurricane Program to further the development of regional hurricane evacuation studies. This initiative led to closer ties between emergency managers and weather forecasters, and ultimately the establishment of the Hurricane Liaison Team – a mainstay of current operations. Phil had an accomplished and distinguished career in emergency management, and earned both the Distinguished Meritorious Service Award and the Distinguished Civil Service Medal. The Department of Health and Human Services also presented him with its first national Disaster Medical Services Award. Persons wishing to remember Major Phillip May are encouraged to do so by donations to organizations involved with disaster relief or to other charities.


  • Memorial Service Saturday, November 4, 2017
  • Reception Saturday, November 4, 2017

Major Phillip May

have a memory or condolence to add?

Steve Oden

October 25, 2017

I was saddened to hear the news of Phillip's passing. I have known the May family for more than 30 years and first met Phil during dove and deer hunts in the Sawyerville-Greensboro, AL area. Through his brother, Billy May, I kept up with Phil's career. Later, as an electric utility executive working with county and state EMAs on ice storm power restoration efforts, I learned of the great respect that directors and front-line FEMA folks had for him.
This was not exclusively for his administrative abilities. Phil was genuinely concerned for his fellow man, dedicated to marshaling the resources of FEMA in order to help "the least of these, my brethren," who could not help themselves in times of disaster and hardship.
A great man from a fine family who will be missed, he truly demonstrated that love is service, not sentiment.

Drew Seyfried

October 24, 2017

It's hard to express in words the man the Phillip May (uncle Phillip aka uhfu aka uncle little little) was. He was one of the kindest people that anyone is likely to meet. I had the pleasure of having him as an adopted family member for the entirety of my life. He was there for every big events and even a lot of the small ones. He has impacted so many lives not just through his career but also just by being the incredible person that he was. He was family even though we didn't share the last name. Heaven gained an incredible angle and I cannot wait for the day we can talk again. Your presence is deeply missed by many, as evidence of just a few of the lives you have touched that have commented on here. Thank you for always being such a positive influence and role model in my life. You are loved and missed dearly.

JDanny Cooper

October 22, 2017

I met Major when he first arrived on campus at The University of Montevallo. We were from rural Alabama communities, shared common interests and quickly became friends. We volunteered for civic projects, pledged Sigma (now ATO and were initiated into ATO together when the local fraternity went national) and we talked about every thing and any thing that was important and not so important.
During those years, our friendship became one of those rare lifetime experiences. He was my Best Man, confidant and was a fellow Republican (there were very, very few in Alabama at that time). In the 1980 Reagan Campaign we worked together as staff peers and really learned how to overcome monumental odds. The hours were long, there were no weekends and we hammered away. He lived with us in 1980 and for us it was a 24/7 commitment. His ideas were genius. His ability to see them through was remarkable. He never tired.
From 1981 and until his departure, Phil grew professionally to be the most respected, admired and appreciated emergency management leaders nationwide. He gave his life in service to his fellow Americans in their times of greatest need. He led because those working beside him knew they were always doing the right thing when they followed his example. His approach to issues of staggering magnitude was simply to begin taking care of people by taking care of logistics.
At FEMA, Major was the same guy from Sawyerville who had a big smile, hearty laugh and always a keen sense of duty. He lived with us again when in Alabama during a hurricane recovery. His personality never changed. The weighty and awesome decisions he handled were just opportunities to serve people. He loved it. He thrived on it.
My Best Man was my best friend for 50 years. Our two sons loved their uncle Phil. He held them from birth to and through all their life experiences. He was never too far away.
Reading here how much he meant to so many others doesn't surprise me at all. If you knew Phil, you liked him. My heart is pierced with a scar never to heal for the void will never be filled. Our Phil made a difference in our lives.
But this I know. We will see Major Phil May on the other side of this life, for he lived his life the way his parents and family taught him. His faith was solid. His Lord always provided. He claimed the eternal promise that I too will someday claim.
My heart and prayers are with you Billy and Terri and to your special family. Dianne and I love you and we too will carry precious memories of Phil forever.

Peggy Young

October 18, 2017

Phil was dedicated to his profession. I met Phil during his first appointment to FEMA . He was a friend and will be missed.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Linda Allison

October 16, 2017

Mr. May was the Regional Director when I went to work at FEMA, Region IV in 1983. He was a great boss, and good friend. My thoughts and prayers are with the family.

Edgar Torbert

October 15, 2017

My condolences to Billy and all other relatives of Phil. The Mays and Torberts shared many wonderful times in Greensboro, Alabama. Phil brought honor to his family, his hometown and his alma mater University of Montevallo through his career at FEMA and more importantly timely relief to many thousands of people impacted by natural disasters. I deeply regret that I did not reconnect with Phil when I moved to the Atlanta area.

Edgar Torbert

October 15, 2017

My condolences to Billy and all other relatives of Phil. The Mays and Torberts shared many wonderful times in Greensboro, Alabama. Phil brought honor to his family, his hometown and his alma mater University of Montevallo through his career at FEMA and more importantly timely relief to many thousands of people impacted by natural disasters. I deeply regret that I did not reconnect with Phil when I moved to the Atlanta area.

Gary Dinsmore

October 15, 2017

Major was a good friend in whom I am deeply saddened to hear about his passing. I will miss our Uncle Julio lunches immensely. He inspired people to want to do better and provided wise counsel in sharing life experiences. Rest well my friend. Until we meet again.

II Timothy 2:6-9

Hycentha Hodge

October 15, 2017

I met Major in 2015 when I became a homeowner in Vinings Vinyard Condominiums. I became a HOA board member and as such Major (also a board member) and I worked together on a couple of projects; fitness center renovations and replacement of the gas grills. Major was smart and knew how to get things done. He quickly became my go to person in the community. He was kind, compassionate, and always willing to do his very best. Major is an endeared friend and neighbor. His presence is missed so much. Heaven has a new angel. Rest In Peace Major.

Kelly Burkitt

October 14, 2017

Mr. May was kind and thoughtful leader. I truly enjoyed working for him. He will be missed.