Henry May: Need A Ride?
Fish is not something for dinner, not if it is spelled with capital letters. FISH is Friends in Service Here and provides free rides to medical appointments to residents of Essex, Chester, and Deep River.
Henry May, the president of FISH, says that in 2019, the last full year of operation before COVID forced periodic shutdowns, 60 volunteer drivers made 1,133 round trips taking riders to medical appointments.
Now the service is operating regularly again but there are fewer volunteer drivers, some 30 in all.
“When people say thank you, that’s a wonderful feeling,” Henry says.
People seeking rides need to call FISH before noon the day before the medical appointment and leave a message. One of the two dispatchers picks up the messages, arranges the ride schedule, assigns available drivers, and lets the volunteers know whom they will be transporting. Then the volunteer driver calls the rider to let the person know when to expect pick up.
Taking people to medical appointments, and providing the service free, Henry points out, means that people who no longer drive, or have a temporary condition that prevents them from driving can get the necessary medical care. And having the transportation free means even those with limited budgets can afford the service.
The ride service will transport people using walkers, crutches, or oxygen equipment, but not wheelchairs. “Many of our drivers are older and wheelchairs are just too heavy,” Henry explains.
“It’s a vital service. If they don’t get to the doctor, they don’t get the prescriptions, they don’t get the medicine they need,” Henry says.
In fact, Henry often stops at a pharmacy with a rider after an appointment to pick up a prescription.
FISH provides something important that goes beyond medicine: socialization. The drive to and from the doctor’s office gives an elderly person, particularly people living alone, an opportunity for human contact and conversation to break the loneliness of their days.
“People are shut in; they live alone down a road, in the woods, it’s a hard way to live,” Henry says.
Henry got involved with FISH when he was volunteering for another organization, SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which provides business advice free to those seeking its expertise. Another member of the group told Henry he should volunteer as a driver for FISH. Henry said he didn’t have time. His friend had a one-word answer: nonsense. (Actually, that answer was a bit more colorful.)
Henry, who moved to Essex in 1999, started with FISH in 2000; he has been on the board for 14 years and president for 10.
Henry and his wife Joan both grew up in Buffalo. Henry recalls Joan had two older sisters.
“I thought they were pretty attractive but they thought I was a jerk,” he says. Joan did not. The couple have been married 54 years and have two daughters, one son and seven grandchildren.
“My wife is involved in everything I do,” Henry says, adding that the tale about her sisters may not be entirely accurate, “but it is a good story.”
Henry’s grandfather along with his widowed great-grandmother emigrated from Germany and settled in Buffalo because there was a thriving German community. His grandfather started as an office boy at $1.50 a week at a firm that became the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, maker of luxury automobiles in the 1920s and 1930s.
Henry’s grandfather ended his career as Vice President and General Manager of the company. Pierce-Arrow went out of business in 1938 but Henry, who does not own a Pierce-Arrow, nonetheless was once involved with a club for those who still own vintage Pierce-Arrow cars. Henry does own an antique lady’s Pierce-Arrow bicycle from 1896. At one time, the company that became Pierce-Arrow made bicycles.
After retiring from a career in sales and marketing in the printing industry, Henry and Joan, looking to live near the water, moved to Essex from Chappaqua, New York. The couple, who like racket sports, made an impression before they actually settled here, when as a mixed-doubles team they won a tournament at the paddle tennis club in Essex.
Henry, once enthusiastic about paddle tennis, no longer plays. He recalls the moment he decided that his best days on the court were over. An opponent sent a lob over his head. Normally he would have run back to get it but he didn’t. He just looked at it sailing by. “I said nice shot and that was the last time I played paddle tennis,” he recalls.
Henry also gave up soccer which he coached and played, not only in high school and college but after that as a member of adult teams. The time came when the aches and pains of the game outweighed the pleasure.
“I stopped at 45. I came home and couldn’t get out of the car,” he recalls.
In addition of FISH, Henry has also been active in the first Congregation Church of Old Lyme, serving at various times as Chair of Stewardship, Minister’s Search Committee, Trustee, Chair of the Church Council and Deacon Emeritus, in addition volunteering in the Food Pantry.
Volunteering is important part of Henry’s life.
“I am grateful I have had a good career, a good marriage, a good family,” he says. “I feel a responsibility to give back.”
To arrange for a ride to medical appointments or to volunteer as a driver for FISH, call 860-388-2693.