I learned today of the passing of my friend Louis G. May. The name may be unfamiliar to many of our readers but Lou was one of those unsung leaders in the industry who gave much of his life to the fair and carnival business and I'd like to share a little about him with you.
When I first began working in the business in the early 90's with Amusements of America, the Pitt County Fair was one of the stops on Morris Vivona's southern route. As I learned about the industry as a young man, there were few that knew more about it's history than the Vivona Brothers, owners of Amusements of America, especially the elder brothers Morris and John. Lou May however, was at least their equal.
Lou was President of the Pitt County (NC) Fair, run by the American Legion, and I would call on him to go over marketing ideas and plans for the fair on behalf of Amusements of America. Lou was a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in business and worked in the lumber industry until 1999. He was a forestry historian but his real love was the carnival and fair business.
When I went to visit Lou at his office in Washington, NC, the first thing I noticed was an enormous pile of Amusement Business magazines. He must have had close to every issue on hand and during a discussion, he would grab a copy and thumb through it until he found the article he was looking for to emphasize a point or refresh his memory. If you wanted to know what state fairs the Lawrence Carr Shows booked in one year, Lou knew. Carnival routes in the south for any year you could call out? Lou knew. His knowledge of the business, especially in his beloved state of North Carolina, was encyclopedic.
One time, Lou asked me to come with him to the North Carolina State Fair. He loved the state fair and Strates Shows, so I took the drive from Virginia Beach to Raleigh to meet him. Visiting a fair with Lou was unlike any experience I have ever had or ever expect to have for that matter. As we walked along the midway, Lou could tell you the location of rides from year to year, what changes had been made over the years (and whether he agreed with them or not), what independent rides were brought in, where they sat and the history of many of the concessionaires. It was like walking the midway with the accumulated knowledge of the fair itself. Almost any question you had, Lou could answer.
During our visit, we stopped to talk with fair officials, the Strates family, concessionaires, entertainers and vendors. Lou was friendly with all of them and he was always asking questions and gathering new information.
Even when I was visiting the Pitt County Fair with Morris Vivona, Sr., Lou would often bring up bits of trivia Morris didn,t recall or sometimes never knew. The interaction of these two veterans was an experience I always treasured observing.
As a fair manager, Lou was very active in booking the best entertainment, making sure the Vivonas brought him the best rides and he continued to educate the public with his antique farm areas. Under his leadership, the Pitt County Fair grew to be one of the top county fairs in the State of North Carolina and Lou was always looking to bring the best fair to the people of Pitt County.
Pitt County Fair guests were welcomed to the event by Lou's personal band organ which he presented at the fair each year. Lou spent a lot of time monitoring the organ during the fair and he always placed chairs in front of the organ so guests could just sit and listen to it's music. In fact, Lou could often be found in one of those chairs enjoying his prized possession.
As a fair manager, Lou was one of those rare people who understood the industry from both the carnival and fair perspectives. He was even-handed with contracts, yet demanded the highest caliber midway. It seemed like the minute the Vivonas told me they were making or even thinking of making a new ride purchase, the phone would ring and it would be Lou on the line wanting to know if it was coming to his fair.
Of course, Lou knew each unit of Amusements of America, the equipment it carried and what the equipment demands were for the other fairs the company was playing at the same time. Many a conversation would start, "Now Florence has had the (insert ride name here) for three years now, I think its time you all brought it to Greenville and gave them the (insert substitute ride name here)".
I learned so much from Lou over the years, he was always generous with his knowledge and patient with my questions, offering advice and spending his time with someone who really couldn't give him much in return. I guess the term for that is a mentor and that word describes our relationship perfectly.
Even when I left Amusements of America and ventured out on my own, Lou always had time for me, going to dinner at conventions or calling out of the blue with news. I felt no hesitation to call on him for advice and it was always freely given.
I guess it has been over a decade now since Lou's health declined to the point where communication became very difficult for him. Not being able to talk to him was hard at first but to this day, I remember so much of what he taught me over the years and that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am very grateful for the knowledge, advice and most of all the friendship he gave to me.
Rest in Peace Lou.
A graveside service will be held for Lou May at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 13, at the Oakdale Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Saint Peter's Episcopal Church Women, P.O. Box 985, Washington, NC 27889.
Online condolences may be offered to the family by visiting www.paulfuneralhome.com.