(LITTLE ROCK) Jan. 30, 2020 — The University of Arkansas System President’s Medal for Service today was given to J. Thomas May, former bank president and CEO of Simmons First National Corp. and current president of its foundation, and past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas.
The medal is a discretionary award given by the UA System president and his cabinet to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a distinguished and sustained commitment to helping the UA System carry out its mission to the state through their time, knowledge and philanthropy.
“Tommy has consistently demonstrated during his remarkable career an unselfish and genuine passion and dedication of his time, talents and resources to the UA System, Pine Bluff, Simmons Bank and, indeed, the entire state of Arkansas,” said Dr. Donald R. Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System. “I am honored to not only have gotten to know him through his good deeds and accomplishments professionally, but to also experience his kindness and generosity on a personal level that has been deeply inspirational in my life.”
In addition to serving on the UA Board from May 5, 1993 to March 10, 2003, including two years as chairman from 2000 to 2002, he is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, earning a bachelor’s and master’s of business administration from the UA System’s flagship institution. He is the only person to simultaneously serve as UA Board chairman and acting president of the system, after filling in for former President Dr. Alan Sugg for a month during an illness in 2001. After his tenure on the UA Board ended, he has also served a term on the UA Foundation Board.
“As a successful bank chairman and CEO, he brought to the board a unique understanding of finances and management that helped his colleagues and the administration wade through many complicated financial matters,” Bobbitt said. “Perhaps even more important was his steady, level-headed leadership ability that helped push the Board and the university through many challenges. The contributions both he and his wife, Kathryn, have made to the UA System are countless and invaluable, and it’d be a difficult task to find anyone more deserving of this recognition.”
The award, which was created to recognize recipients for their exceptional service and support for multiple units of the UA System, is not given annually. The inaugural and only other recipient was Charles E. Scharlau, former chairman and CEO of Southwestern Energy and past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas, in 2017.
“Some of my greatest experiences, friendships, feelings of ‘making a difference,’ and sense of pride was during my 10 years on the UA Board of Trustees,” May said. “A sense of satisfaction in watching the young men and women walk across the various stages of our 20 campuses to receive their diplomas, was simply a spectacular experience. I thank Dr. Bobbitt and the Trustees for their service and for allowing me the opportunity to be honored with this very special award.’
May has also served the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville as a member of its Campaign for the 21st Century Steering Committee and the Dean’s Advisory Board at the Walton College of Business, which also inducted him into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2010 for his outstanding leadership of Simmons Bank. The hall also later awarded him a lifetime achievement award, and he previously received the University of Arkansas Chancellor’s Medal.
May has made an impact at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), where in 2006 his friend and fellow trustee, the late Bill Clark and his wife Margaret, endowed the J. Thomas May Chair in Oncology, which became a “distinguished” endowed chair in 2016. In 2008, the May Center for ALS Research — a disease that May has battled since 2005 — opened at UAMS to help find a cure. An endowed chair in Kathryn’s and Tommy’s names in clinical services and ALS was also established in 2010. Kathryn and Tommy are both members of the Society of the Double Helix recognizing their philanthropic support of UAMS.
A resident of Pine Bluff, May has also been instrumental on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), where he’s been involved with many efforts contributing to the campus’ growth and development, including a fundraising campaign for Golden Lions Stadium, where the J. Thomas May Field House was named in his honor. The UAPB Business Incubator and many other campus improvement projects have also been supported by May and Simmons Bank.
About the University of Arkansas System
The University of Arkansas System is a comprehensive, publicly-supported higher education institution composed of 20 unique campuses, divisions and administrative units that share the singular goal of serving Arkansas residents and others by developing and sharing knowledge to impact an ever-changing world. Serving more than 70,000 students and awarding more than 80,000 degrees and certificates in the last five years, the UA System further promotes an atmosphere of excellence that honors the heritage and diversity of our state and nation. It provides students, researchers and professionals with tools to promote responsible stewardship of human, natural and financial resources in Arkansas and around the globe, and with workforce-relevant knowledge to enhance economic development efforts that improve the overall quality of life and societal well-being.
The 20 institutions and units that comprise the University of Arkansas System include seven two-year institutions: Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas (PCCUA), the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB), the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton (UACCM), the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope (UACCH) and Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas (CCCUA), University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College (UAPTC) and the University of Arkansas Community College at Rich Mountain (UACCRM); five four-year institutions: the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF), the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS), the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM); the state’s major academic medical center, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS); a statewide Division of Agriculture; a presidential graduate school, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service; a residential high school, the Arkansas School for Math, Sciences and the Arts (ASMSA), a fully-online university, the University of Arkansas System eVersity; as well as several units critical to the economic and cultural fabric of the state, including the Arkansas Archeological Survey (AAS), the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (WRI).