Despite Health Challenges, Tommy May Stays Active

Tommy May maintains a busy schedule as CEO of Simmons First National Corp. even as his physical pace has slowed some since he was diagnosed in December 2005 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

His case presents a slow progression of the motor-neuron disease that affects voluntary muscle control. In the past four years, the 63-year-old executive has transitioned from a cane to a wheeled walker to aid his mobility.

Muscular degenerative in nature, ALS doesn't pose a threat to his cognitive abilities, though May quips that some questioned his mental skills long before his 2005 diagnosis.

"Retirement is not in my immediate future," he said. "My plans are to work for another four years until I'm 67 years old. I feel very positive that I will be able to do that."

May sports a red wrist band on his right hand that bears the inscription "I support ALS research in the honor of Tommy May."

The band is more than a donation magnet bearing a suggested price of a $10 donation that has raised $7,000 for research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

The brainchild of Kay Shankles, an executive assistant at Simmons corporate headquarters, the band represents a talisman of affection for May by co-workers and others around the state.

"It's not about Tommy May," he said of his reasons for approving the gesture. "It's about raising awareness and helping find a cure. Who's to say it couldn't happen tomorrow, or happen right here in Arkansas?"

In addition to his duties at Simmons, May serves on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the Arkansas Research Alliance, a public-private nonprofit organization devoted to increasing university-based research and innovation as a path to developing the state's knowledge-based economy.

May will be inducted on Feb. 12 into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame along with the late William "Bill" Clark, CEO of Little Rock's CDI Contractors; Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys; and Jim Lindsey, CEO of Fayetteville's Lindsey Management.