Michael S. “Margaurite LeMay” Hayes, a Burlington resident, drag queen and beloved member of the performing group The House of LeMay, died from a heart attack on Sunday while out on a walk.
“Margaurite had a smile that could light up a room,” said Darren Perron, a WCAX news anchor and longtime friend of LeMay Hayes. “She's the queen who made the Queen City a lot more fabulous.”
LeMay Hayes was born April 22, 1956 — a fifth-generation resident of Chittenden County. After spending a childhood in Burlington, Milton and Grand Isle alongside sibling Nancy Hayes, LeMay Hayes studied costume design at Castleton State University and played an important role in the Burlington arts and activist scenes for decades.
“Mike had a gregarious laugh and was just fun to be around,” said Bob “Amber LeMay” Bolyard, a close friend of LeMay Hayes and co-founding member of The House of LeMay.
LeMay Hayes first met Bolyard in January 1988 after Bolyard was cast in Lyric Theater's production of “Annie,” while LeMay Hayes was working as a costume designer for the show. At the time, LeMay Hayes was also part of The Vermont CARES Cabaret Players, a group that raised money for Vermont CARES, an organization that formed at the height of the AIDS epidemic to provide resources to Vermonters affected by HIV, hepatitis C and substance use. Bolyard soon joined the group alongside LeMay Hayes.
The House of LeMay was officially born on Halloween night in 1992, when LeMay Hayes and Bolyard found they wanted more opportunities to perform and decided to become drag queens to continue fundraising for Vermont CARES. Drawing inspiration from other local drag queens, including Burlington’s Reverend Yolanda and Cherie Tartt, who hosted the TV show “Cherie & Yolanda LIVE!” in the ’90s, the two became the LeMay sisters from the “Hot Damn Trailer Park in Beaver Pond, VT,” donning glamorous clothing that LeMay Hayes often stitched by hand.
“I think the way Bob tells it is that the two of them saw me and Cherie out and about, or on TV performing or something, and said to themselves, ‘We can do that!’ It was just fabulous,” Yolanda said. “I think we kind of opened the door a little bit, like cracked it open, because it wasn't so prevalent at the time for you to see drag in a public way in Burlington.”
In 1995, Jonnie “Lucy Bell LeMay” McLauglin joined The House of LeMay, completing the iconic trio as the sisters’ cousin. In the years since, the group has been active in the Burlington community, performing shows that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities and organizations over the past three decades.
Often working in collaboration with other local artists at events, bars, Pride celebrations and fundraisers — including at the annual ongoing Winter is a Drag Ball — the House of LeMay has become a central part of a close-knit and longstanding community in Burlington.
“From day one, you know, we were all just so in love with each other. We played and we bickered and we acted like family,” Yolanda said.
Perron, who often joined The House of LeMay’s events as an emcee, said LeMay Hayes “was first to volunteer for any kind of event in which she could have fun but also raise funds.” Perron described countless events during which LeMay Hayes inspired community members to do things like register to vote or open their wallets to people in need.
“We didn’t just do shows. We went out into the community,” Bolyard said. “And not just the gay community. We were part of Burlington. That’s what I’m really proud of — I think we broadened the appeal of drag and acceptance of drag in Burlington.”
LeMay Hayes also worked at the Burlington store Rags to Riches for 30 years, channeling his love of costume design into selling fabrics.
“The customers just loved him,” Bolyard said. “If Mike wasn't working, a lot of times customers would just walk out the door and come back when he was.”
Karen Okun, who knew LeMay Hayes while working as a bartender and DJ at 135 Pearl, a gay bar in Burlington that closed in 2006, described LeMay Hayes as a “little gem of a human who made people laugh and smile … the memories that they leave us with speak volumes to who they were in life.”
Since LeMay Hayes’s death, Yolanda said that she has seen countless Facebook posts in which younger members of the LGBTQ+ community say that LeMay Hayes was the first person they ever came out to.
“During Mike's whole time as Margaurite, people gravitated toward her because she was so open and loving and easy to talk to,” Yolanda said.
According to a Facebook announcement from the House of LeMay, a celebration of LeMay Hayes’s life will be scheduled for later this spring. Yolanda said she looks forward to attending and hopes to share a song at the memorial.
“Whenever I was in the presence of Mike, it was always joyful,” Yolanda said. “Full of life and full of love.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled a name.