The Look in Brief

National Guard member, victim of COVID, remembered as ‘full of life’

By: - October 3, 2021 9:26 pm
Tennessee National Guard member Bobby May, photographed who; on duty in Jordan. (Photo: Taelor May)

Tennessee National Guard member Bobby May, photographed who; on duty in Jordan. (Photo: Tori May Holt)

Bobby May was on the verge of retirement from the Tennessee National Guard.

May had just received a letter congratulating him for 21 years of service to his country and the 56-year-old combat veteran had survived cancer two years ago.

“He was just a goofy person, full of life,” Tori May Holt, his daughter who lives in Roane County, said.

But, he caught COVID-19 last month and he died on Tuesday, Aug. 31. 

He is the only known Tennessee National Guard member to die of the virus since the pandemic first began in February 2020. May, who lived in Grainger County, was not on duty at the time. He had gone to Texas to meet his two daughters and go to a Kid Rock concert in Fort Worth

One Tennessee lawmaker said there needed to be more transparency after the Tennessee Lookout reported the death earlier this week. Jeff Yarbro, House Minority leader, said he had not heard or been briefed about the death.

Bobby May. (Photo: Tori May Holt)
Bobby May. (Photo: Tori May Holt)

Other state lawmakers also did not comment.

The Tennessee National Guard issued a statement offering condolences of his death, but did not answer questions concerning how many Guardsmen are currently vaccinated or if there had been any other deaths due to COVID-19 or how many Guardsmen have tested positive and recovered since the pandemic began.

Holt said her father was not vaccinated and said, if he had lived, he probably still wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated.

But, she said he lived a full life.

He was attached to the 1175th Transportation Company, based in Tullahoma. He had been deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Jordan as a combat medic.

May grew up in Dandridge, Tennessee, under the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. Before he died, he was living in Grainger County, just off Cherokee Lake.

Holt said her father loved his time in the military. He joined the U.S. Army at the age of 18, first going active duty. 

He separated from service, went to work with a company based in Oak Ridge that did contractor work for the U.S. Department of Energy. He decided to go back into the Army, this time choosing to go into the National Guard.

He was on the verge of getting out of the service. 

“He extended one more year…” Holt said. “He was going to retire.”

Just two years ago, May had been diagnosed with cancer. Tragedy struck again last year when he was involved in a car wreck, breaking several bones throughout his body, injuries he didn’t fully recover from.  

This year, he and his two daughters planned a father-daughter event that would become annual. They all liked Kid Rock and they found out he was going to be playing in Texas. Holt, along with her sister, Taelor May, booked a concert for them and their dad.

Bobby Holt, with his wife and daughters Tori May Holt and Taelor Holt. (Photo: Tori May Holt)
Bobby May, with his wife and daughters Tori May Holt and Taelor Holt. (Photo: Tori May Holt)

They met up and went to it.

The girls left, but Bobby and his wife stuck around to travel Texas and do some sight seeing. Just days later, on Aug. 24, he tested positive for COVID.

It happened quickly. He got sicker and sicker quickly and the girls had to book flights back to go see him.

They arrived at the hospital in San Antonio, Texas. But, they couldn’t be with him or touch him.

“We told him goodbye on a Zoom call,” Holt said.

It was the hardest thing she ever went through in her life. The man who had baptized her as a child and sent her links to YouTube videos when she grew up was gone.

He was her best friend. He was the guy who surprised his family every time he came back home from deployments.

Now, he’s gone at 56 and she never considered the possibility of him not being there with her.

And, it’s hard.

“I’m learning to live life without him,” she said.


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Cliff Hightower
Cliff Hightower

Cliff Hightower is an award-winning journalist from East Tennessee. He is a former winner of the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalist’s Golden Press Card Award in investigative journalism. Cliff has previously worked at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, The Tampa Tribune and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He has more than two decades experience and currently works as news editor for an East Tennessee newspaper.