Descended through her mother (Melita Smith) from David Smith, “the first white settler” on Swan’s Island, Swan’s Island Town Clerk Gwen May was born in Rockland, “and I came home after 10 days” to grow up in the town where her father, Milton “Bud” Staples, was the road commissioner for 40 years.
After completing eighth grade on Swan’s Island, “I went to Higgins Classical Institute in Charleston,” met her first husband there, and lived with him on his native Matinicus for 12 years, Gwen said. Their three daughters (Sonja, Betsy and Jill) all live on Swan’s Island, and Gwen has two grandsons and a granddaughter.
She was living in Ellsworth with her young daughters “when I came out to visit” family on Swan’s Island in 1980. “I did not want to live on another island,” but “the people were so caring” that “I decided to move home,” Gwen recalled.
She worked as a beautician, “did odd jobs” around the town, and did private bookkeeping. Elected tax collector in 1983, she won election for town clerk in 1992. “Then I lost ’em both, and I got them back” in subsequent elections, said Gwen, also the town’s registrar of voters.
Venturing off island “maybe once a month,” Gwen enjoys “my children, my grandchildren. They are my world. We have all the holidays at my house.” Her daughters “are all such hard-working women.”
Her second husband, Roger May, was a Vietnam veteran. A lobsterman, “he flew his own plane” as “a ‘spotter’ for herring” and “was part owner in a seining business,” Gwen said. “He was a good man, a good father to the kids. He loved his grandchildren.”
Asked about other interests, she responded, “Genealogy, the history of the island, reading, my cat Stormie,” so named because while passing the Swan’s Island Advent Christian Church during a nasty rainstorm, Gwen noticed a “tiny, tiny” kitten “curled up in a ball” and “soaked up from the rain.” She brought the kitten home.