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Memorial Tributes: Volume 22 (2019)

Chapter: BILL B. MAY

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Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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man to the end with a penchant for DIY projects and gardening. They had two children, a son who became a doctor and a daughter who became a scientist. For the last two decades Ann was his constant companion and aide on his travels, and finally also his nurse during a long terminal illness.

Acknowledgments

We are indebted especially to Lady Marshall for permitting us access to her store of personal papers and to the UKAEA for permission to consult official archives. We also received valuable help from Mr. A.M. Allen, Professor Martin Blume, Dr. F.J.P. Clarke, Sir Alan Cottrell (FRS), Dr. Ken Currie, Mr. Michael Dawson, Professor Sir Roger Elliott (FRS), Dr. Brian Eyre (CBE), Sir Christopher Harding, Sir John Hill (FRS), Sir Peter Hirsch (FRS), Professor Alan B. Lidiard, Mr. Richard Lindley, Mr. Ivor Manley (CB), Dr. Chauncey Starr, Dr. B. Tomkins, Mr. Peter Vey, and Mr. Ed Wallis.

The frontispiece photograph, taken in June 1973, is reproduced with the kind permission of the Godfrey Argent Studio.

Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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BILL B. MAY

1935–2016

Elected in 1988

“For outstanding accomplishments in pioneering and bringing to practice significant electronic surveillance technologies.”

BY WILLIAM J. PERRY

BILL BRUCE MAY’S life is a prototypical American story. That is, it’s a story that could happen only in America.

He had humble origins. Born September 23, 1935, in Sturgis, South Dakota, to John and Weltha May, he grew up on a ranch outside the small town not far from Mount Rushmore. He attended a one-room grade school with 12 other students and one teacher, and at Sturgis High School he met the love of his life, Marka, who became his wife of 60 years.

After graduating from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, he went to Stanford University to get a PhD in electrical engineering. He and Marka took their young son to Los Altos, where they raised their family, which grew to three sons and a daughter.

While working on his PhD Bill joined the Stanford Electronics Lab (SEL). In his 11 years there he authored or coauthored nine significant technical publications. These included his dissertation, “A Wideband Frequency Discriminator Using Open and Shorted Stubs,” and two highly influential papers: “Radar Accuracy and Resolution in a Multiple-Signal Environment” (published in 1964 by the Defense Technical Information Center) and “A Statistical Analysis of Multichannel Systems with Application to Broadband Microwave Frequency Discriminators.”

Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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At SEL Bill demonstrated that he had management talent as well as technical skills, and rose rapidly in the management structure. But during his last few years there the country was going through traumatic protests against the Vietnam War. A consequence of that turbulent era was a student sit-in in 1969 that effectively shut down SEL. This setback only challenged Bill: He led an exodus of seven of the best staff members of the defunct lab to create a new electronic warfare company, ARGOSystems, specializing in signal processing systems.

It was clear in the first year of ARGO that Bill and the gifted engineers he had taken with him would be successful. Indeed, the company achieved steady and profitable growth, and ultimately had more than 1,300 employees. This success was rewarded by a very strong public offering and then, in 1987, Boeing decided to diversify into the electronic warfare field by buying ARGO, keeping Bill as CEO of the newly merged company. At the time ARGOSystems was recognized as one of America’s leading electronic warfare companies and known for its integrity, financial stability, and professionalism, all a true reflection of Bill May.

Through those two transactions, Bill created significant value for the loyal employees who had helped develop the enterprise into the great company it had become. Bill stayed on for 5 more years, assisting Boeing in effecting a smooth transition of ARGO into the Boeing management structure.

After retirement he lent his management experience to several other companies by serving on their boards. He was especially dedicated to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, which he helped found.

In addition to election to the National Academy of Engineering, Bill’s honors included membership in Sigma Xi and Eta Kappa Nu, and selection for the Guy E. March Medal, awarded by his alma mater in South Dakota. For the NAE he served on the Program Committee and on the Electronics, Communication and Information Systems Engineering Peer Committee.

Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Page 233
Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Page 234
Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Suggested Citation:"BILL B. MAY." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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This is the 22nd Volume in the series Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and foreign associates. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased. Through its members and foreign associates, the Academy carries out the responsibilities for which it was established in 1964.

Under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering was formed as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. Members are elected on the basis of significant contributions to engineering theory and practice and to the literature of engineering or on the basis of demonstrated unusual accomplishments in the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology. The National Academies share a responsibility to advise the federal government on matters of science and technology. The expertise and credibility that the National Academy of Engineering brings to that task stem directly from the abilities, interests, and achievements of our members and foreign associates, our colleagues and friends, whose special gifts we remember in this book.

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