Classy Is as Classy Does (Editorial)

We liked watching J. Thomas May when he was just one of the state’s most talented bankers, adroitly serving his customers, employees and stockholders despite being headquartered in a part of the state not blessed with an economic boom during his tenure.

But in eight years since his diagnosis with ALS, the progressive motor-neuron disorder that an earlier generation knew as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the CEO of Simmons First National Corp. has served as an inspirational example of grace and determination and service. Not just for the banking industry or the business community or even for cranky journalists, but for the whole state.

Tommy May has taught us a lesson in priorities. He wears virtually identical suits, shirts and ties every day because figuring out what to wear to work simply isn’t a worthwhile use of his time.

He has taught us to look for what are sometimes called “life hacks” — alternate solutions to the impediments we all encounter. A couple of years ago he started pre-recording his message for Simmons’ annual shareholders’ meeting.

He embraced delegation of duties as his mobility deteriorated while clearly remaining in control of a company that did not shift into idle. And this year, as the months to his long-planned retirement slipped by, he graciously gave his successor, George Makris Jr., a front-and-center role in the historic purchase of Metropolitan National Bank.

Because of the generosity of the people who love him, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences received $1 million to establish the J. Thomas May Center for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Research. Simmons has established the Simmons First Foundation, with May as its inaugural chairman, to make cash grants for projects in communities served by Simmons branches.

We’ll miss having Tommy May at the helm of Simmons First National Corp., but our state is richer for having seen the example of a true class act.