Interview with J. Thomas "Tom" May, September 22, 2017

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - May's childhood and education

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Partial Transcript: Okay, we're recording now. So I have some questions that I would like to ask.

Segment Synopsis: Stull asks May to talk about how he ended up living in Beeville, Texas. May responds that he moved several times as a child because his father was a marketing director for a dairy corporation. He notes that his father was a WWI veteran and that his family moved to Beeville after his father was unable to reactivate his commission during WWII. May explains that he attended a Benedictine Catholic boarding school, joined the military when he was older, and then received his undergraduate education at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. Stull inquires why May chose to be a quad-major in English, history, chemistry, and zoology at St. Mary's. May explains that being from a small town made him ambitious to be something other than the usual professions of doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. May adds that he registered as a pre-medical student in 1954, but he couldn't make up his mind on what it was that really interested him, finding himself more interested in campus politics than being a clinician. Stull asks how May went from having such broad interests to focusing on medical sociology. May responds that he served in the military for a while until returning in 1961. He adds that he then began applying to graduate schools, but he was rejected by most of them except for the University of Pittsburgh. May explains that he was no longer interested in medicine so much and had begun studying history at Pittsburgh through a special vigorous PhD program. May discusses how he first earned his masters at Pittsburgh and began gaining interest in social sciences. May discusses how he became a research assistant to Peter Kong-ming New and how he failed his first doctoral exam. May then explains that he went to Tulane University in New Orleans after being offered a research assistantship there by John Duffy.

Keywords: Beeville (Tex.); Beeville, Texas; Childhood; Doctoral education; Graduate education; Interdisciplinary studies; J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; John Duffy; St. Mary's University; St. Mary's University, San Antonio (Tex.); St. Mary's University, Texas; Tulane University; Tulane University (La.); Tulane University, New Orleans (La.); Undergraduate education; United States Military; University of Pittsburgh; University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh (Pa.)

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Medical anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology; University of Pittsburgh

00:10:50 - Influence of Peter Kong-ming New

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I know Peter, um, um, Peter Kong-ming New, um, was, um, very important in your, uh, professional, um, growth I guess, and after you finished your PhD, you and he remained close.

Segment Synopsis: Stull asks May to talk about how Peter New influenced his professional career and his involvement in SfAA. May responds by stating that New was an extraordinary person who he started to work for in the late spring of 1962. May provides background of the time in which he first started working for New at the School of Public Health at Pittsburgh, providing an example of his work with New in Northhampton County, Pennsylvania. May describes how he greatly admired New for his ability to maintain a balance between academic and applied work and highly valued his unique teaching. May provides a story about how well-informed New was and the influence this had on him. May discusses New's wife Mary Louie New who suffered from bipolar disorder but was a very accomplished professional in her own right, describing her climb from discrimination at University of California, Berkeley to being an expert in her field.

Keywords: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Chinese Americans; Chinese-Americans; David Landy; Dick Remington; Harvard School of Public Health; Herbert Gans; J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; Mary L. New; Mary Louie New; Medical anthropology; New York (N.Y.); New York City (N.Y.); Northhampton County (Pa.); Northhampton County, Pennsylvania; Peter K. New; Peter Kong-Ming New; Research assistantships; Richard Remington; School of Public Health, Harvard University; School of Public Health, Pittsburgh; School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; University of California, Berkeley; University of Pittsburgh; University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh (Pa.)

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Chinese Americans; Medical anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology; University of California, Berkeley; University of Pittsburgh

00:24:05 - Arrival at Oklahoma University--Involvement in SfAA

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Partial Transcript: Um, well, could we--I want to talk about Mary and about the, about the, the, um, founding of the Peter K. New, um, Award--

Segment Synopsis: Stull asks May to discuss his early involvement with the SfAA or the Peter New Award. May begins describing how Peter New became the president of the SfAA, then explaining why he himself wasn't very much involved despite being a member. Stull asks May if they can back up and talk about how May arrived at Oklahoma University. May explains that he was conducting his dissertation at Tulane University when he was considering two possible positions, one at the University of Buffalo in a low-level assistantship and the other at Oklahoma University designing and teaching a history of medicine in Oklahoma course. May took the latter and adds that he had a joint appointment in the School of Public Health and the College of Medicine at Oklahoma. Stull notes that May's position as a social scientist in a medical school was rare for the time period. May explains that this indeed was the case, but that he had leverage in the sense that medical undergraduates were required to take a behavioral science course and there was a popular idea at the time to shift responsibilities from the hospitals to their communities. Stull and May then return to the topic of May's involvement in the SfAA. May discusses how he was the treasurer of the SfAA but he wasn't really invested in the situation the society found itself in around the decision of whether or not to join the AAA. May then explains the odd situation the SfAA found itself in, particularly vying for awards with the AAA and its strange relationship with NAPA (the AAA version of SfAA). Stull asks May to back up and discuss the issue the AAA found itself in with the IRS over its status as a non-profit organization. Stull and May go back and forth discussing this with Stull noting that the often described "split" between the AAA and SfAA wasn't really a split because they were never one organization.

Keywords: American Anthropological Association (AAA); College of Medicine, Oklahoma; Internal Revenue Service (IRS); J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA); Peter K. New; Peter Kong-ming New; School of Public Health, Oklahoma; Shirley Fiske; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA); Sue Ellen Jacobs; Sue Jacobs; Triple A; University of Oklahoma; Will Sibley; Willis E. Sibley; Willis Sibley

Subjects: American Anthropological Association.; Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Medical anthropology; National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (U.S.); Society for Applied Anthropology; University of Oklahoma

00:41:42 - An empty SfAA budget

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Partial Transcript: So, this vote occurred, my notes say 1982, but I--that, that may not be the case. But there was a special meeting of the SfAA in Denver, in 1985.

Segment Synopsis: Stull asks May to discuss the financial difficulties the SfAA found itself in after having to look beyond the AAA for management of its finances and how May came to directly manage them. May explains that the SfAA had a contract with a company called Bergman and Associates in Washington, D.C. for the company to manage the society's finances, but it became clear that the arrangement was not working when the society's financial resources began to deplete. May explains that he thought he could trade some of his duties at the department of pediatrics and begin to directly manage the finances as society treasurer. Stull asks May if the firm had been ripping off the society and why did the finances suddenly become an issue. May answers that he isn't sure but thinks that some of the society officers who arranged the contract with Bergman were naive about what they were doing. May adds that it was at a society meeting in Toronto where there was a lavish event hosted by Bergman and he wondered who was paying for it. May explains that it was at the Santa Fe society meeting in 1989 where the discussion over revitalizing the SfAA occurred and May expresses that he believed the individuals from a variety of backgrounds there could succeed in revitalizing the society. Stull discusses how he first met May and recalls the Santa Fe meeting as the first to surpass 1,000 people in attendance.

Keywords: Bergman & Associates, Washington, D.C.; Bergman and Associates, Washington, D.C.; Erve Chambers; J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; Neil E. Hann; Neil Hann; Santa Fe SfAA meeting; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA); Society for Applied Anthropology meeting, Santa Fe; Sue E. Jacobs; Sue Ellen Jacobs

Subjects: American Anthropological Association.; Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Financial management; Medical anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology

00:53:06 - Financial management of the SfAA

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Partial Transcript: And I, I just wanted you to talk a bit about your, your secrets for success in, in, in arranging for annual meetings and, um, I mean I think it's just the--it's always been--I sort of--my jaw has always dropped and I've always been in awe of how, how you do that.

Segment Synopsis: Stull asks May to discuss how he's been so successful in arranging things for annual society meetings. May responds by discussing his experience in working with hotels and the hospitality industry. May describes how he felt the hospitality industry was above board and straightforward as long as you got everything you wanted in the contract. May outlines his strategy of setting up competing opportunities to convince salespeople to sign a deal with him. May expresses that he thinks the secret to successful arrangements is treating the hospitality industry in a fair way and understanding that anything not signed for in the contract is something you have to pay for later, adding that you shouldn't be embarrassed to present counter-offers. May provides an example of a salesperson who almost did all the work for him to secure a contract. May explains why certain arrangements are so successful in some locations and not in others. He explains that the seasonal availability can be drastically different from city to city, citing an example of not being able to secure a good deal in Austin, Texas but being able to in San Francisco, California. Stull brings up May's fiscal philosophy, noting the financial success it has brought the society, and asks about the conflict its brought him with other society members. May responds by first stating the issue that SfAA is not a discipline-based society like AAA, without a natural constituency, and it had to understand that it is largely seen as a secondary society for its members. May explains that this is the reason why he has always expressed the need for limited dues, adding that dues never decrease again after being increased. May stresses the importance he placed on never committing to any venture without having the money required at hand already. Stull mentions that May doesn't sound like an academic when talking about these things and asks if his financial interest comes from the Bergman event or a desire to be an accountant. May explains that medical school partly made him this way since it brought unwanted oversight if too much money was spent, and the lack of like-minded opinions on the society board made him a bit single-minded. May explains that by the mid 1990s, there was enough money in the society to begin thinking about creating awards. He cites the Spicer Travel Award as an example.

Keywords: Art Gallaher; Art Gallaher, Jr.; Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer Travel Award; Fiscal philosophy; Gil Kushner; Hospitality industry; Hotel industry; J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; Neil Hann; SFAA meetings; SfAA meetings; Society dues; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA); Society membership dues; Spicer Student Travel Award; Spicer Travel Award

Subjects: Anthropology; Anthropology--Awards; Applied anthropology; Financial management; Hospitality industry.; Medical anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology

01:14:17 - Establishing the Peter New Award

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Partial Transcript: Uh, we talked earlier about, uh, Peter New and about his, his, uh, wife Mary and, um, the first award--well we had the Malinowski and the Mead Award, um, which were, uh, distinguished awards for professionals...

Segment Synopsis: Stull circles back to another point in the interview, again asking about the development of the Peter New Award. May responds by describing the situation in which New died. After his death, New's wife Mary Louie New inherited his assets and sold their property in Rockport, Massachusetts. May explains that Mary New began to get into lengthy phone discussions with him about where she should send her money, sending some to Peter New's old schools. Stull asks if the idea of the award came from May or Mary New. May answers that it was a mixture of both of their efforts. May explains that Mary New came into a lot of money after selling the Rockport property and needed a tax deduction, along with her desire to utilize the money to honor Peter New's memory. May can't recall for sure, but thinks that someone brought up the idea of a student award at one of the SfAA meetings. May explains that Mary New initially supplied $20,000 and the society matched about half of it. He adds that there was discussion over whether there should be a third party entity to manage the money, but it was decided to let the SfAA manage it since it was a society with institutional support. May describes how the award evolved from only giving an award to the first place winner to providing awards to second and third place participants as well. May expresses how he has sought to increase the award's value, but the other trustees for the award find the idea to be extravagant. Stull asks if Mary New's estate left any funds to the society for the award. May explains that Mary New's relatives did not support the award since they were a working class family without much academic interest. May describes how, unlike Mary New's family, Peter New's family was prestigious, his grandfather was part of the Chinese Educational Mission in the 1850s to educate Chinese students in the west and then bring them back to China. May adds, however, that despite this academic legacy, this didn't matter since New lacked any surviving close relatives. Stull asks May why he had such a vested interest in the award since, although it was obvious he shared a close relationship with the News, Peter New hadn't been his advisor or anything. May explains that he thinks it is a recognition of the debt he feels he owes Peter New for his development and for believing that Peter New would appreciate the gesture of an academic award to honor his memory.

Keywords: Alleen Deutsch; American Sociological Association (ASA); Chinese Educational Mission; Chinese Educational Mission (1872-1881); Dartmouth College; Dartmouth College (N.H.); Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; Eaglebrook School, Deerfield (Mass.); Eaglebrook School, Deerfield, Massachusetts; Fortunate Sons; Fortunate Sons (China); Hong Kong, China; Hong Kong, UK; Hong Kong, United Kingdom; J. Anthony Paredes; J. Anthony Paredes Memorial Plenary; J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; James Anthony "Tony" Paredes; James Anthony Paredes; Madame Chiang; Madame Chiang Kai-shek; Madame Sun Yat-sen; Mary L. New; Mary Louie New; Mary New; Niu Huisheng; Peter K. New; Peter K. New Award; Peter Kong-ming New; Peter Kong-ming New Award; Peter New; Peter New Award; Poarch Band of Creek Indians; Poarch Band of Creek Indians (Ala.); Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Alabama; Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Atmore; Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Atmore, Alabama; Rockport (Mass.); Rockport, Massachusetts; Rosamond Soong Ching-ling; Shang-Chow New; Shanghai; Shanghai Orthopedic Hospital; Shanghai, China; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA); Soong Ching-ling; Soong May-ling; Soong Mei-ling; The Chinese Educational Mission; Tufts University; Tufts University (Mass.); University of South Florida; Way-Sung New; Yuet Cheung; Zhongshan Hospital; Zhongshan Hospital, Fudan University

Subjects: Anthropology; Anthropology--Awards; Applied anthropology; Chinese Americans; Chinese Hospital at Shanghai; Chinese history & archaeology; Medical anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology

01:47:53 - Reviewing major characters of SfAA / SfAA as a broad organization

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Partial Transcript: So, the conversation, um--let's deal with the, uh, issue of, uh, the separation from the--the decision not to dissolve the corporate, separate corporate status, and become a part of triple-A.

Segment Synopsis: May brings up discussion of people involved in the SfAA following its decision to not join the AAA. He first describes working closely with Ted Downing, but notes that he didn't feel that Downing possessed the kind of focus most other leaders had. He mentions that Peter New always had a respectful opinion of Edward Lehman. May often worked with Lehman [executive director of the AAA] in Washington D.C. on various things. May expresses the importance he thinks this history has and hopes that Ted Downing and Sue Ellen are interviewed for their unique perspectives. Stull asks May to talk about his feelings about SfAA being a broad-minded organization. May explains that he doesn't think he was able to ever effectively sell this point but thought that the SfAA's growth would be limited as an anthropology association. He describes his hope that there could be an Applied Social Sciences society rather than separate ones for each discipline, however he notes he never gained support on this.

Keywords: Administration; American Anthropological Association (AAA); Edward J. Lehman; Edward Lehman; J. Thomas "Tom" May; J. Thomas May; John A. Young; John Young; Peter K. New; Peter Kong-ming New; Peter New; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA); Sue Ellen Jacobs; Sue Jacobs; Triple A; William F. Whyte; William Foote Whyte; William Whyte

Subjects: Administration.; American Anthropological Association.; Anthropology; Anthropology--History.; Applied anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology