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Philip Walter May, 79, died peacefully on July 22, 2018, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Phil, or “Flip,” as many family members and old friends knew him, was born on October 1, 1938, in Hackensack, N.J., but spent his formative years in Park Ridge, N.J.
He attended Bethany College but followed his parents and brother to California and graduated from San Jose State with a degree in advertising. He began his career as a junior copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in Los Angeles. During this time, Phil reveled in the music of California’s 1960s folk revival, and carried a passion for that music all his life.
After marrying in 1962 and starting a family, he and his late wife, Betsy Paterson May, moved back East when Phil transferred to J. Walter Thompson in New York, then the largest advertising agency in the world. They returned to Betsy’s hometown region of Rockland County, ultimately settling in Pearl River, N.Y. Phil was an active member at the “Old Stone Church” in Upper Saddle River, N.J., and then Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Pearl River, where his beautiful voice carried many a hymn.
Phil worked for several of the top advertising agencies in New York, including J. Walter Thompson and Dancer Fitzgerald Sample. There he enjoyed the camaraderie of many talented co-workers, including lifelong friend Karen Raucci.
A gifted wordsmith and storyteller, Phil quickly ascended the ranks of the agency world. It is believed that he was the youngest person ever made a vice president at JWT at the time. When he retired after more than 20 years in the business, he was a senior vice president and creative director at DFS with a commanding view from his office in the Chrysler Building.
As an executive, he traveled the world with regular stops in Japan, Saudi Arabia and Europe. His campaigns for Lifesaver and Toyota were among his most memorable. Phil won numerous advertising awards, including a Bronze Lion at the Venice Film Festival for a Kodak commercial that first aired during the Academy Awards.
After retiring in 1986 to pursue his dream of becoming a fiction writer, Phil moved to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where he completed several novels. Among his published works are “Twenty Silver Ghosts,” an exquisitely illustrated volume that chronicles the history of Rolls Royce cars, and “The Rifle Musket,” a young adult fiction book set in the Civil War era.
Phil owned or restored 68 cars and three motorcycles starting at age 13. He had a passion for British sports cars, particularly the MG TC, of which he owned five. Other favorites included five wooden station wagons, seven Model A Fords, a 1913 Model T Ford, two Morgans, an AC Ace, and an Austin Healey 100-4.
Raised on the daring tales of his beloved WWII veteran uncles, he had a reverence for the Greatest Generation. When in Pearl River, he was a regular at Sarafan Auto Supply, where he found friendship as well as the parts to restore his WWII jeep.
Phil was a history buff and collector. At age 10, he began collecting Civil War weapons. A 1964 issue of Gun Report featured his cover story about the weapons and diary accounts of his great-grandfather, a Union Army cavalry officer during the Civil War.
Following the untimely death of his wife Betsy in 1990, Phil was blessed to earn the love of Lucinda “Cindy” Wharton Kellam, and they married in 1996. With each passing year, the couple’s blended family of seven children grew, ultimately producing 16 grandchildren. To Phil’s three daughters, Cindy seemed an absolute miracle – restoring joy to Phil’s life and becoming a much-needed and adored grandmother to their six kids – Betsy and Virginia Edinger; Stuart, Josie and Garnett Martin; and Eliza Moore.
Phil and Cindy spent many years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where they took pleasure in the company of good friends, including their book club. Together they enjoyed international travel as well as regular trips to family and friends.
In 2001, Phil and Cindy moved to Williamsburg, Va. They found meaningful volunteer work, and Phil served as a tour guide at Endview Plantation. The couple also joined the Williamsburg MG Club and had great fun on group tours of Virginia’s scenic byways in their MG TC, the wind blowing through their white locks.
Phil is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 22 years, Cindy May; brother John Timothy “Tim” May (Deborah May-Buffum) of Petaluma, Ca.; three daughters, Darcy Paterson May (Greg Edinger) of Greenwich, N.Y., Jamie Eliza May (Will Moore) of Williamsburg, Va., and Wendy Westerfield Martin (Todd) of Richmond, Va.; four much-loved stepchildren, Lucinda Kellam Jones (Chris) of Winston-Salem, N.C., Luke Kellam (Patty) of Franktown, Va., Whit Kellam (Susu) of Baton Rouge, La., and Anna Kellam Murray (Mike) of White Bear Lake, Minn.; and 16 adored grandchildren, who reveled in love and holidays at his home. He also is survived by many cherished family members, nieces and nephews, in-laws, friends, and – of course – Grady, his loyal Parson Russell Terrier, who was the last of many beloved canine companions.
He was preceded in death by his parents Philip Westerfield May and Virginia Webb May and his beloved wife of 28 years, Betsy Paterson May.
A celebration of Phil’s life will be held on Monday, July 30 at 1 p.m. at Hungars Episcopal Church in Bridgetown, Va. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Heritage Humane Society at 430 Walter Mill Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185 or Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at 1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, VA 23081.
Memory tributes may be shared with the family at www.williamsfuneralhomes.com.
Arrangements by the Williams Funeral Homes.
Heritage Humane Society
430 Walter Mill Road, Williamsburg VA 23185
Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation
1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown VA 23081