May grew up under the difficult conditions imposed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, absorbing the family value of self-reliance in finding food and employment. Depending on government help did not enter the family’s thinking in those days.
May attributes her self-confidence to the caring influence of two sets of grandparents who helped to raise her after her mother died in 1927 when May was just seven years old and gave her “unconditional love and acceptance”. It is this sense of self-worth and competence that she has drawn on in her 60 years of activism, and taught many other women to claim too. Standing up for her values when external social pressures were brought to bear has both drawn on and strengthened her personal sense of self-worth, keeping it intact under siege.
No one would make me and my two sisters believe that we were not OK. Even when we made mistakes, we still felt good about ourselves. I think that is a big thing, that no one could make me believe anything different.
In 1980, May returned to her birthplace of Pomquet, Nova Scotia, from Montreal, where she had raised her six children, worked in a large home for seniors, and owned and managed a small group home for elders. Always proud of her Nova Scotia Acadian heritage, she quickly spotted issues that needed attention in her community, and got involved with la Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE), the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia. She served several times as the President of the Pomquet branch and also worked for FANE at the provincial level. Since women were not represented well in FANE, they founded Fédération des femmes acadiennes de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FFAN), the Acadian Women's Association of Nova Scotia (AANE).
Then I was getting older, and we sat around the table, and I said (to members of FANE), “Are you going to recognize the seniors? When are you going to talk about the seniors in Nova Scotia?” We had nothing to represent us as far as the Acadians are concerned. So they said “OK”, and we founded Regroupment des aînés et aînées de la Nouvelle-Écosse, the organization for seniors in Nova Scotia.