Dr. Gerald Gordon May, 64, psychiatrist for prison system, author and teacher


Dr. Gerald Gordon May, a former state prisons psychiatrist who also taught workshops at an ecumenical Christian community, died Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of sepsis complicated by congestive heart failure and cancer. The Columbia resident was 64.

Born in Hillsdale, Mich., he was the younger half-brother of Rollo May, the American existential psychologist who died in 1994.

Dr. May earned degrees from Ohio Wesleyan University and Wayne State University College of Medicine in Indiana. He completed his internship and residency in the Air Force and served a tour of duty as a psychiatrist in Vietnam.

After being discharged from the military, he became director of a Lancaster, Pa., drug-abuse treatment center. He moved to Columbia in 1973 and joined the staffs of the prison system's Patuxent Institution in Jessup and the state's Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville. He remained a practicing psychiatrist until 1988, when he decided on a career change.

He had joined the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, a Bethesda ecumenical Christian community dedicated to the support of contemplative living, more than 30 years ago. He became a staff member there in 1983, and at his death was a senior fellow teaching workshops in contemplative theology and psychology.

"He had a childlike playfulness that he combined with a deep faith and spirituality," said Monica Maxon, a Shalem staff member.

She said that in his years at Shalem, Dr. May had taught more than 1,000 students of many faiths.

Dr. May wrote dozens of articles and nine books on spiritual growth and enlightenment, including Will and Spirit, Addiction and Grace, The Awakened Heart and, most recently, The Dark Night of the Soul.

Dr. May played guitar and dulcimer. From 1982 to 1992, he did technical direction for Ellicott City's Little Theater on the Corner, where his wife of nearly 43 years, the former Elizabeth Jane Clark, was director.

A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center, 1525 Marriottsville Road in Marriottsville.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by four sons, Earl William May of Wayne, Pa., Paul Richard May of Fort Myers, Fla., Gregory Gerald May of Columbia and Christopher Gunther of Columbia; a daughter, Julia Briana May of Randallstown; a brother, Dr. Pat May of Howell, Mich.; and nine grandchildren.

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