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In remembrance of St. Helena's Martha May

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Rianda House Board of Directors

Martha May, top right, pictured with the Rianda House Board of Directors. Also shown are (top row) Carroll Cotten, Kris Coryell and Martha May; (second row) Stephen Buehl and Bonnie Thoreen; (bottom row) Priscilla Upton, Peter Working and Susan Kenward.

Editor's note: The Rianda House staff submitted this article in remembrance of Martha May, "our champion and dear friend who passed away the 23rd of May 2022."

Martha and Tom May were very respected pioneers in the Napa Valley. They moved here in 1963 and started the namesake vineyard that would become the legendary Martha's Vineyard. Martha was also a hostess extraordinaire who helped put Napa Valley on the map as a world-class wine and food destination.

Martha was a force in this Valley! She worked tirelessly for her community and was an active board member on a long list of local nonprofit organizations including Rianda House, Napa Valley Wine Auction, and the St. Helena Hospital and OLE Health foundations.

Martha became acquainted with Rianda House while attending weekly bridge classes with her dear friend Priscilla Upton, the guiding star behind our fundraising efforts and past vice chair. Kris Coryell, board chair at that time, was also in the class, and it didn’t take long before wonderful lasting friendships grew. The three had many discussions over lunch about Rianda House’s future, and Martha’s appreciation for what Rianda House offers the community also grew.

As Kris has observed, given Martha’s vast board experience, “her input was instrumental in our growth and development.” In 2016, Martha joined our board and the Fund Development Committee, and quickly became an incredible positive force who brought so much to our work at Rianda House. Peter Working, current board chair, comments that “it was a great pleasure to work with and learn from her over the years. Martha was a valued member of the board, and I will always admire her sharp wit and accurate assessments of problems, astonishing breadth of knowledge and deep commitment to her causes.”

When Martha believed in something, there was no one more gracious and giving. She also was a fierce advocate in figuring out the best result and quickly pointing out opportunities to help others. Always attentive to Rianda House matters, Martha was very generous and loyal to our team, especially the staff, whom she greatly respected and appreciated. Retired executive director Julie Spencer fondly remembers Martha’s wisdom, honesty, and guidance, and treasures Martha’s encouraging emails with words and emojis like “Go Team Go! All the hard work is paying off and people are realizing how important Rianda House is!"

Determined to stay connected during COVID, the Rianda House team quickly learned how to meet virtually via Zoom. We added Friday virtual happy hours to connect socially and offer moral support to each other. Our friendships deepened, and Martha’s dry sense of humor, delivered with a twinkle in her eyes, always left us with a smile and a chuckle that we so desperately needed during the stressful times.

What a plucky, strong lady she was! Our great admiration for Martha will endure forever, and as Priscilla Upton said so well, “We are immensely grateful to our dear friend for her many contributions to Rianda House.” She is deeply missed by us all, and our lives are forever enriched by her kindness, humor, generosity, vision, style, support, and can-do spirit, which will never be forgotten.

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Martha Ullmann May, 85, of Santa Barbara, CA, passed away the 23rd of May 2022, in Napa, CA.

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