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  • Physical Therapy Leader Bella May Dies at 86

    Bella J. May, PT, EdD, CEEAA, FAPTA, renowned physical therapist educator, author, and recipient of some of APTA's highest honors and awards, died on March 16. She was 86.

    May was born in France, later moving with her family to Hanoi in what is now Viet Nam. She and her family immigrated to the United States during the Second World War, when May was 11. Her first degree was in physical education, but soon after she became interested in physical therapy and was awarded a scholarship to attend Stanford University, where she was trained under physical therapy legends Lucille Daniels and Sarah Semens. May joined APTA in 1952.

    May went on to establish herself as a clinician, instructor at the Medical College of Georgia, and author, with a particular emphasis on patients with amputations who receive home health care. Books she authored or coauthored include Prosthetics and Orthotics in Clinical Practice: A Case Study Approach; and Lower Limb Amputations: A Guide to Rehabilitation. May also served as editor of Home Health and Rehabilitation: Concepts of Care.

    During her lifetime, May received some of the physical therapy profession's highest honors. In addition to being named a Catherine Worthingham fellow in 1992, May also received the Lucy Blair Service Award, the "Golden Pen" award for scientific writing, and the Chattanooga Research Award. May delivered the 1996 Mary McMillan lecture, focusing on clinical decision-making.

    May was a strong advocate for the advancement of physical therapy as a doctoring profession, asserting that was up to physical therapists to uphold the highest professional standards in ways that demonstrated their worth to the public.

    "If we are to achieve our goals of being recognized as a doctoring profession and be considered by the public as independent professionals, we need to reach out to those who are not functioning at an appropriate level," May told PT: Magazine of Physical Therapy (now PT in Motion) in 2006. "It is not enough to have sparkling advertising campaigns; we must try to ensure that all public contact with physical therapy will reflect a doctoring profession. A tall order, yes, but, I believe, critical to our future."


    • Wonderful person. She was a friend of my mother-in-law and colleague of mine at the Medical College of Georgia. My life is richer for having known her. Ann Sutherland Dearing, GA

      Posted by Ann Sutherland on 4/4/2016 9:07 PM

    • Bella was my boss at MCG when I was on faculty from 1982-84. She was passionate, fair, funny, and just a delightful person, boss and friend. I remember well her passion for PT becoming a doctoring profession. May she rest in peace.

      Posted by Lorrie Hall on 4/4/2016 11:03 PM

    • Very honored to have had Bella May as an instructor at MCG. Amazing lady and PT

      Posted by Michael Rosenberg on 4/5/2016 7:38 PM

    • I was in the 1978 graduating class for the physical therapy program at the then Medical College of Georgia and the 5th group to graduate in Dr. May's revolutionary problem-based curriculum. How little did I know at that time how Dr. May's problem-based learning would transcend and influence my life. We now take problem-based learning for granted, but at the time, her ideas and belief in the possible evolution of physical therapy was cutting-edge. I am honored that I have known her.

      Posted by Dr. Debra Beazley on 4/6/2016 4:37 PM

    • Great lady. When I was a rookie Delegate in the House of Delegates, I was fortunate to sit beside her. She taught me a lot . For many years afterward, I enjoyed running into her at numerous APTA functions. We would just "chat" and catch up with one another. RIP Bella.

      Posted by Stuart Platt on 4/6/2016 6:13 PM

    • Dr. Bella May, PT, EdD, FAPTA, also gave the 2009 APTA Education Section Polly Cerasoli Memorial lecture, "Are We There Yet?" Bella took us all on a memorable trip to the "University of Physical Therapy" (see May,Bella, Journal of Physical Therapy Education, Vol 23, No 2, Fall 2009, p 10-14). Thank you Bella for 'sharing the future in terms of the past' in your lecture and for giving so much to our profession. You reminded us to stay contemporary in our practice. You were a gem and I can still see you running the halls of the conference centers in your white tennis shoes and always ready to engage in PT conversations from education to practice. Thank you for the gifts of your seminal textbooks and sharing your wisdom with us even in retirement! You had a great spirit about you and shall be so fondly missed. You are an inspiration and your influence lives on ...

      Posted by Gina Maria Musolino -> ?FY`B on 4/6/2016 6:45 PM

    • Bella was my academic advisor when I enrolled in MCG's PT program in 1974 and has been a lifelong friend and mentor since then. Her influence on PT practice and education were more far-reaching than Bella herself realized. Whether teaching a student or offering advice on physical activity to a member of her retirement community, Bella's passion for PT inspired everyone who was fortunate enough to know her. She will be greatly missed.

      Posted by Marty Hinman on 4/7/2016 4:36 PM

    • I am a richer person for having had Bella May as a professor when I was at MCG. She was an outstanding teacher and a woman of great wisdom. She has given many gifts to our profession.

      Posted by Diana Early on 4/14/2016 2:48 PM

    • Our profession has lost a great visionary and leader. She was instrumental in challenging me throughout my career to think beyond the obvious and not accept the status quo. May she rest in peace.

      Posted by Suzanne Brown on 4/15/2016 2:53 PM

    • A visionary, innovator, and a true professional. Rest in peace Dr. May.

      Posted by alan lee on 4/25/2016 9:34 AM

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