BELLEAIR – Entering the world of Daryl May is entering a world of extremes. His life’s experiences have ranged from the extremely funny and humorous to the extremely sad and tragic.
He is a man who has been a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy, an entertainer and now an author. His personality is just as eclectic as his life.
May has just published a book, “Chasing Shadows,” and while it is mostly stories of his days in law enforcement, it includes many chapters of his own life, which began 80 years ago.
Despite his age May looks like he can probably still fit into the uniform he wore when he graduated from the police academy in 1962. He is a man given to neatness: His shirt is well pressed, his pants creased, his boots polished. It is hard to imagine that this man got down and dirty fighting criminals – yet he did – and he begins the first chapter of his book with just such a story.
It is the story of how May shot and killed Jack Travis, but not before he took the beating of his life from Travis, a big man in a drunken rage. The fight and Travis’s life ended up in a muddy ditch off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. By his account May was lucky to be alive.
“I was never afraid during that incident,” he said. “I was too busy to be afraid; I was fighting for my life and had to concentrate on what I was doing.”
May spent nine years as a deputy sheriff. In his book, he recounts an assignment to bring in a prostitute. “Little Red Riding Hooker” he called her. It was an assignment that he didn’t relish, figuring law enforcement officers could be spending time on more worthy assignments than curbing the sexual appetites of the citizenry. Yet orders were orders and his description of the hooker is much too graphic to print in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say he has never forgotten the woman or what she looked like.
“She was the one and only hooker I ever busted,” he said.
Then there is the story of a man May arrested for fighting with his wife in a drunken stupor.
“We put the guy in jail and thought that was that,” he said. “Yet three months later I got another call, the same guy, out on the street again, fighting drunk again. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. My superior said instead of taking him to jail I should bring him around to the judge’s house to see how he’d like to have to deal with this guy again.”
Another chapter recalls how he and 12 other Pinellas deputies were assigned to provide security for then-President John F. Kennedy.
“I was with the man for about an hour,” he said. “I was close enough to smell the tobacco smoke on his jacket.”
Just a few days later Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
The sadness and tragedy in May’s book comes when he talks about the death of his daughter Perri. She died of cancer in 2011 at 53 years of age.
May can barely contain his emotions as he tells the story.
“When she was just out of high school she was diagnosed with lymphoma,” he said. “After battling it we eventually thought it was cured, but it came on again and went into remission again.”
“She was told she would never have children, yet she did, three of them,” he said. “She lived a good life with her family and she was a spiritual person. Then in 2010 when the cancer came again.”
All through the nine years of his law enforcement career May did a little side work as an entertainer. He could play the guitar and sing and spent time on the weekends earning extra money playing in clubs and bars around the county.
Eventually May decided he’d rather do that than arrest people so he left the Sheriff’s Office and went into entertaining full time.
“I quit the Sheriff’s Office on Friday and on Monday I was doing stand-up comedy,” he said.
May prided himself on his songwriting, and one of his songs “Gator Bar,” was recorded by country star Mel Tillis. Even that led to another of May’s stories.
Tillis, as most fans know, has a speech impediment. When he sang there wasn’t a hitch. But when he spoke he stuttered badly.
“The last line in the song had to be spoken, not sung,” said May. “As a result Tillis told me he recorded the rest of the song in no time, but took half a day with the last line.”
May also spent over a year entertaining on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. He said there was a certain amount of pressure in that.
“You have a packed theater of 800 people,” he said. “You have a full orchestra and an emcee and you go out to perform for 30 minutes, not 29 and not 31. It has to be 30. I did it for a year and the pay was awesome, but the politics was terrible.”
The politics led him into a dangerous situation in Haiti.
“I had to change ships so they let me off in Haiti to fly to the other ship,” he said. “I get in a cab and the driver tells me there is some trouble and there is shooting all around. He said if I stay at the airport I’ll be all right. I stayed there and when the Air France flight came they threw my guitar on the floor and got me aboard and off we went. It was the only time in my adult life that I was actually afraid.”
By 1990 May decided he wanted to get off the road and be closer to home. He joined the Pinellas County Property Appraisers Office as an investigator and from 2003 to 2011 he served as the director of that department, yet another chapter in that eclectic life of his.
Over the years May made many friends in his various careers and with news of his book they were quick to add their support.
Long-time broadcasting executive Paul Catoe has been friends with May for years. He wondered what the book would be like when he first heard about it.
“I didn’t have any great expectations about the book, that is until I read it,” he said. “It was extremely well done. There were things in there that had me bust out laughing and others that brought a tear to my eye.”
Retired Circuit Court Judge Joe Donahay of Oldsmar has also been a friend for years. In the early going he recalls dealing with him in court, but later as an entertainer.
“I had the interesting experience of hearing him as an entertainer. After dealing with him in the courtroom in a formal way, it was quite a contrast. He’s extremely creative and certainly a nice guy,” Donahay said.
The book, “Chasing Shadows,” is already on the Amazon bestseller list and a Kindle version has already been published. Hard copies should be available shortly through Amazon.
May says the book is like a child to him in a way that perhaps only other authors will understand.
“I have invested a lot of labor in this book. Then when I finished it I went over it. Then I went over it again. I didn’t want to give it up,” he said. “I went through withdrawal when I did give it up; it was like a child to me.”
Article published on Wednesday, June 8, 2016Copyright © Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.