Lee Boswell May, who was born and raised in South Orange and a long-term trustee on the Coalition on Race's board, passed away last week. Our trustees are devastated by this news. This is a huge loss to the Coalition, Giants of Jazz, and all of South Orange. Lee's family has been in South Orange for many decades and she was full of stories about the community, the schools, businesses, government, arts and culture, and so much more. Her family had deep roots here and Lee shared her family's experiences generously--especially their advocacy for civil rights here and in New Jersey. She was married to jazz musician Earl May, and was a big supporter of music and jazz in the community and the region.
We remember Lee as a dedicated volunteer who made the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Annual Observance one of the most special events, who made our Celebrating Integration Annual Dinner a beautiful evening, and who was always willing to serve wherever she was needed. Lee always had a smile and a story. She had a way of connecting whatever we were working on at the moment to a situation in the past that was helpful and instructional. She loved music, knew lots of musicians, and was always ready to connect people through their shared love of the arts.
Needless to say, our board and our volunteers are heartbroken. We will feel her loss for some time to come. To give our readers a sense of who Lee was on the context of the Coalition, some of our trustees shared their thoughts below:
David Harris: Over the years we all benefitted from her deep knowledge and love music as well the people who created it and those of us who just enjoyed it. No one can replace her.
Fred Profeta: What I will always remember about Lee is how we benefited from her presence at Board meetings. When our discussions sometimes became heated, Lee never did. She would listen carefully, and at the right moment she would calmly inject a bit of perspective, history, wisdom, or just plain pleasantness - which would remind the jousting partisans that were are all, in the end, on the same side. We will miss that.
Liz Testa: Lee was a true matriarch of this community, sharing her historical, musical and creative gifts, wisdom and expertise in extraordinary ways.
Catherine Cronin: I'll miss her, with her stories of growing up in South Orange and her love of music. I loved bumping into her around town (always looking fabulous). A huge loss for us and our community.
Leila Gonzalez Sullivan: Such heartbreaking news for all who knew Lee. I learned so much about our community from her, especially what it was like during her youth. She was always willing to help the Coalition on Race, whether serving on committees or stuffing envelopes or keeping us on track at board meetings.
Colleen Breslin: Lee was a legend among us. The intricate details she remembered to us about what it was like here back in the day, how she loved music and her parents and her decades of public service, how much she learned from all of that. Her sense of style, the colors and jewelry and quiet wisdom and kind smile. I really loved listening to her, was always comforted in her presence and will miss her a lot.
Erin Scherzer: No matter how crazy things got from the world falling apart to an energetic trustee meeting and more, Lee was always that calming force without letting us forget what truly mattered. I will miss Lee’s passion especially for music & South Orange, her always positive energy, her volunteerism.
Abigail Cotler: I’ve had so many great conversations with Lee about music and actually was able to enjoy some of the concerts she put together at SOPAC. I will listen to some music in her honor today and think of her.
Kristin Mahoney: I always came home with a story for my family of something Lee had shared about local history. What a treasure she was, giving us great perspective about our local history.