Cover photo for Michael May's Obituary
Michael May Profile Photo
1954 Michael 2022

Michael May

June 30, 1954 — October 3, 2022

Madison

Michael Patrick “Bo” May, age 68, died on October 3, 2022.  Michael lived a full and fun life.  He was a prominent Madison lawyer who loved the law and loved Madison, serving as Madison City Attorney for 16 years.  He was a father, a husband, a bon vivant, a gardener, a raconteur, a lover of the usquebaugh , and a big Badger sports fan.

Michael was born on June 30, 1954, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison.  He never lived more than 25 miles from there.  He grew up in Monona, and from an early age, he wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest.  His siblings would get dolls or toys for Christmas.  Mike reveled in getting a book of Bible stories.  He was the fourth child and oldest son of the eight offspring of Harold Leo May and Beatrice Marie (Schweigert) May, a classic Wisconsin combination of Irish and German.

In 1968, at age 14, Michael left home to live and study at Holy Name Seminary in Madison.  His years at HNS, preparing for the priesthood, were some of the most influential in his life. He made life-long friends, including Michael “Chico” McWilliams, who gave him the nickname “Bo” that stuck with him for life.  He was class valedictorian in 1972 and won a National Merit Scholarship that he used to attend UW-Madison.  Years later, when he became a Unitarian, Mike would complain that “the Church had left me” and that he was disappointed that “progressive Catholic” was no longer a movement but an oxymoron.

Bo obtained his BA degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from UW-Madison in 1975, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  After working for a year, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School.  He graduated in 1979, cum laude , and he was elected to the Order of the Coif.  He also was a member of both the Wisconsin Law Review, a scholarly journal, and the Wisconsin Law Revue, a rag-tag group of law students who performed risqué skits that would not be allowed today.

His law career spanned 43 years.  He was an associate, partner, and then managing partner at Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field.  After 25 years in private practice, Michael was appointed City Attorney of Madison by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in 2004.  He was subsequently reappointed and reconfirmed under Mayor Paul Soglin and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.  Mike retired from the City in 2020, just after the COVID pandemic broke out.  His 16 years as City Attorney rank as the second longest in the history of Madison. He concluded his legal career at Boardman Clark (the successor of Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field) as Senior Counsel to the firm.   Much of Mike’s practice focused on serving municipalities.  As Madison City Attorney, May gave his most famous legal opinion, consisting of five words: “You know, I don’t know.”  It was this opinion that saved the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  He also helped push through a resolution to correct the mispronunciation of Rosa Road.

When at Boardman, Mike got another of his nicknames, “Monsignor.”  This came from a Boardman partner, upon finding out about May’s early life studying for the priesthood.  He was “Monsignor” for the rest of his life.

Bo was married three times.  Barbara (Gratton) Heitz was a fetching hippy chick from southwest Wisconsin, and is the mother of their three children, Pearl Angela, Alexander John, and Ilsa Marie. His second and “transitional” wife – so-called by one of Mike’s therapists – was Jane Sara Tenenbaum, a smart and funny Jewish artist from Boston and Long Island.

Michael married (in 2001) his soul mate, Briony Jean Foy, a Madisonian who is a skilled artist, a recovering Catholic, and a recovering lawyer, with whom he bonded indelibly.  They had known each other for 40 years, dating back to detasseling days at Blaney Farms.  Bo and Bri officially were married for 21 years, although they often felt they had been married forever without knowing it.  When Briony broke the records for tenure being married to Bo, they hosted a “Longest Suffering Wife” party.  Some of their best times were travels to Ireland and snow birding in Palm Springs, California.

Michael was active in many Madison activities.  He was a spiritual man, and he joined the First Unitarian Society of Madison, serving as President of the Congregation from 1991-95.  He also served on numerous other committees, on Unitarian organizations in the Midwest, and as the head of the FUS Preservation Committee for the Frank Lloyd Wright Unitarian Meeting House. May later served on the Board and as President of the Friends of the Meeting House, a separate organization dedicated to education about and preservation of Wright’s Meeting House.

Mike was active in the legal community, serving on several Boards or Divisions of the State Bar of Wisconsin:  Member and Chair of the Administrative and Local Government Law section, Member of the Government Lawyers Division, Member and Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division, and Member and Chair of the Energy and Telecommunications section.  Michael also served on the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Ethics.  He spent many years on the Board of Visitors of the University of Wisconsin Law School and was a Fellow of the Wisconsin Law Foundation.

Mike was a member of Downtown Madison Rotary, where he served on the Board of Directors.  He also served on the Board and was President of the Downtown Rotary Foundation.  He was sponsor of a popular Rotary Book Club, and a member of Rotary’s famous Lew Harned Society.

As a big fan of University of Wisconsin sports, Mike held football, men’s hockey, and women’s hockey season tickets for years.  He attended over 20 Wisconsin bowl games and wrote journals of the fun times on these trips, even when the fun times were a bit revolting.  He invited family and friends to join him and Briony at their home for a Homecoming Party every autumn.

May was also known for playful activities.  For years, he hosted a party to celebrate the resignation of President Richard Nixon, asking guests to toast “the demise of our favorite unindicted coconspirator.”  At one of these parties, he sold Nixon’s (golf) balls.  Mike was quick with a story, a joke and to hoist a glass of scotch, and conducted an annual blasphemous Good Friday luncheon, where participants ate fish and drank the traditional Good Friday cocktail, the rusty nail.

Bo is survived by Briony Foy, his soul mate and long-suffering wife, his children, Pearl May of Philadelphia, Alex (Giselle) May of Chicago, and Ilsa (Megan Watt) May of Madison, two grandchildren, Bea Watt-May and Reina May and another granddaughter on the way.  He is also survived by siblings Mary Jo (Richard) Morrow of Fond du Lac, Barb May of Evansville, Carol May of Prairie du Sac, Laurie (Mike) Larson of Edina, MN, David (Kathy) May of Mosinee, Trisha (Bert) Paris of Belleville, and Paul (Lisa Lundell) May of Stillwater, MN, all kinds of nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand nephews, cousins and ne’er do well friends, and the love of his life, the City of Madison.  He was preceded in death by his parents, Harold and Bea May.

A visitation will be held at the CRESS FUNERAL HOME at 3610 Speedway Road in Madison on Friday, October 14 from 3-7 pm. Due to continuing COVID concerns, the family requests attendees wear a mask.

We would tell you what we are doing with his ashes, but we are not sure it is legal.  We asked Mike before he died about the legality of his plans for his cremains and all he said was, “You know, I don’t know.”

In lieu of flowers, please contribute in Mike’s name to First Unitarian Society of Madison or toward the establishment of a Michael P. May Scholarship Fund through the UW Law School: supportuw.org/giveto/maymemorial

The family encourages every eligible person to vote in the upcoming and all future elections, to protect the democratic ideals that Mike so dearly valued. The May family also sincerely thanks the UW Health University Hospital staff who cared for (and at times were entertained by) Mike during his illness.

Cress Funeral & Cremation Service Speedway

608-238-3434

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Michael May, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation

Friday, October 14, 2022

3:00 - 7:00 pm (Central time)

Cress Funeral Home Madison - Speedway

3610 Speedway Rd, Madison, WI 53705

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