Helen May, an influential shaper of the Cambria community and beyond for five decades, died Saturday, July 28, in Washington state, where she’d been living with her daughter Patti Vernie. May was 93.
She and her six children moved to Cambria in 1957. She was a school and county librarian, an active member of various senior and youth organizations, and a fervent behind-the-scenes political maven. As a State Senior Senator for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties with the California Senior Legislature, she advocated for laws to improve the quality of life for aging Californians.
She worked to help found the Cambria Community Services District and served on its Board of Directors from 1979 through 1983 and again from 1993 through 2002. In 1984, the Cambria Chamber of Commerce declared May the town’s citizen of the year.
Through her work with numerous nonprofit organizations, May’s influence reached from the North Coast to Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
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Peter Chaldecott served on the services district board with May. He defined her as a “community-minded gal who didn’t mind going to Sacramento to fight for the cause, whatever it might be. She didn’t let age get in her way.” He noted that some otherwise qualified people of any age don’t run for office because they “don’t like to get out of their comfort zones. That wasn’t Helen We need some more community-minded people to step up, the way she did.”
May also was a mentor to many young people in need. Some of them memorialized her Sunday on their Facebook walls. Former Cambria resident David Mercer of Hawaii wrote, “She was a pillar in the community and exemplified goodness with a generosity and dignity that came with a wonderful outlook She was always an angel As far as I am concerned, Helen May saved my life,” by taking him into her family and pushing him to stay in school.
“I certainly knew her to be quite devoted to public service in Cambria,” said county Supervisor Bruce Gibson. “She was really a model of the engaged citizen both in and outside of elected office.”
May’s death has “left a huge, empty space” in Cambria’s heart, according to a longtime friend, former county Supervisor Shirley Bianchi. “That huge circle of influence she had isn’t here anymore. I’ll really miss our friendship — and especially our frequent political rants.”
May held a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Cornell University and a licensed vocational nursing credential from Cuesta College.
May is survived by five of her six children, 15 grandchildren, 23 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Cremation has taken place. Her ashes are to be buried next to her daughter, Polly, at Cambria Community Cemetery. A brief, non-denominational service is set for noon Monday, Aug. 13, at Santa Rosa Catholic Church, 1174 Main St., Cambria, followed by a reception in the parish hall.