Dr. Robert E. May, 81, internist, longtime Walters museum docent

January 04, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Robert E. May, a retired internist who interpreted medical themes in paintings and sculpture for visitors to the Walters Art Museum, died Wednesday of complications of Parkinson's disease at Keswick Multi-Care Center. The Timonium resident was 81.

A family physician, he had been clinical director of the internal medicine outpatient department at what is now St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson before his retirement in 1984.

He was also a longtime volunteer tour guide at the Walters, where he used his knowledge of medicine to explain topics in medieval artwork.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Beaumont Avenue in Govans, Dr. May attended St. Mary of the Assumption Parochial School and was a 1938 graduate of Loyola High School.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola College, a medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1946 and interned at what is now Mercy Medical Center. He then served in the Army as a captain in Europe and the United States.

"He had a dry, delightful wit. He never said a lot, but when he said something, it was worth listening to," said Dr. John F. Hartman, a fellow internist and a friend. "He was well read -- he liked to quote T.S. Eliot -- and was deeply involved with art. He was always a real gentleman."

In 1951, Dr. May established a general medical practice and for many years had an office below the Alameda Pharmacy at The Alameda and Belvedere Avenue.

From 1974 to 1984, he ran the ambulatory care department at St. Joseph Medical Center, a service designed for patients with nonlife-threatening conditions.

From 1969 to 1999, he was a medical consultant to the Social Security Administration's disability program.

Family members said Dr. May enjoyed reading, listening to classical music and reciting poetry. He was a weekly visitor to Washington's National Gallery of Art and the Walters.

He became a docent at the Walters after he retired.

"Bob came in a gray suit, white shirt and tie. He was a kind man, very good with the children who visited us," said John Shields, the Walters' manager of docent and internship programs. "He was grandfatherly in the best sense. He knew lots and loved sharing that information."

In September 1990, he created a 30-minute tour, "Medicine in Medieval Art," with a script he wrote around pieces of artwork at the gallery. Among other topics, he discussed leprosy and the Black Plague, using as illustrations the medieval artworks of several saints including Cosmas, Damian, Protasius, Gervasius and Sebastian.

"He worked out a most interesting tour," said Adele-Ethel Reidy, a fellow docent. "I am sure the people who toured with him appreciated his interpretations."

Dr. May is survived by his wife of 57 years, the former Agnes E. Ripple; six sons, Paul E. May of Richmond, Va., Francis X. May of Bel Air, Joseph J. May of Phoenix, and William J. May, Robert E. May Jr. and James A. May, all of Baltimore; five daughters, Patricia M. Melvin, Margaret A. Shulka, Doris M. Goodhues and Mary T. Maskell, all of Towson and Joan M. May of Phoenix; three sisters, Teresa Blake of Springfield, Pa., Sister Ruth Marie May, S.S.N.D., of Woodbrook and Ruth Zellhofer of Timonium; 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Louise A. Dix, died in 1998.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane, Cockeysville, where he had been a member.

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