Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Neil

Warren Sparrow reports that Neil Jones' memorial service was attended by his many friends and collegues.  He said our class was represented by Jerry and Pat Gaudet, Obie Oakley, Robert Dodge and Bonson Hobson. 
Obie, Robert and Warren all offerred tributes.
This is Warren's tribute: 

First Presbyterian Church, Wadesboro, North Carolina

"Even though we are heartbroken about Neil’s death, today in this
First Presbyterian Church of Wadesboro

place at this time it is our duty to celebrate his life and to say the things Neil did to enrich our lives. I am humbled and grateful to be a part of this event.

Perhaps a brief introduction will be helpful.  Like Neil, I was born in Charlotte and graduated from Central High School in 1954. In my high
school annual he wrote, “To a better man than I.” That was not true in1954 and it is certainly not true 62 years later. But, it made me feel good.

Neil had a way of doing that. In support of my notion of Neil’s special talent, I would like to read a note from one of his classmates who lives in Atglen, a town of one thousand people in the hills of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Dear Holly,

I am thinking about all of you today with much gratitude that I was blessed to know and love your Dad. Your Dad taught me two songs one night sitting in the car in front of my house and I will be singing them all day. Wish so much I could be there, but know I am with you in thought and spirit.

The world has lost some of its luster and I will
forever miss him.


Betsy Villas White

Here is another example of Neil’s knowing what to say and when to say it. What I am about to read is a portion of a note dated May 18, 2016, from one of Neil’s classmates to Holly.

O golly, my dear friend Neil. I was running for something,in high school—student council? Class president? In those days girls ran for secretary or treasurer (probably could have been elected), but we’d had one girl, one time, the year before—Penny
Smith. Maybe it was too soon. Dunno.

Was there a runoff? Already a surprise. But I did lose. To Max Evans, as I recall. And it was Neil who came and found me where I’d holed up to wait the vote count—he may have stashed me there. “Let’s go walk a minute,” he said. And we walked into a quiet place, a stairwell, dunno, and he put his arm
across my shoulders and told me I’d lost. Only Neil would know what to do and how to do it.

You are blessed in your heritage, Holly—you have one hell of a father.

Diana Carpenter White

Diana is valedictorian of the Central High School Class of 1954. She lives in DeKalb County, Georgia, where in 1999 she was named DeKalb County Teacher of the Year.

Those two stories are good examples of Neil’s way of giving a lift to those who needed one. My interactions with Neil were similar in the sense that he knew when I needed help and he was quick to provide it.

In 1955 after we had completed one year of college—Neil at Duke and I at N.C. State—Neil learned that I was transferring to Duke for the 1955 fall semester. Somehow Neil arranged for me to be his roommate in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity housing section. This was a big risk for Neil but one he obviously was willing to take.

When September came, I moved into Neil’s third-floor room in the Beta section beneath the Duke Clock Tower. During the following nine months Neil went out of his way to see that I was welcomed by his fraternity brothers in a way that would have been impossible for me to do on my own.

He was the driving force behind my being invited to join the fraternity. In a word, Neil went to bat for me. He convinced a fraternity packed with skeptical Yankees that I would be an asset to the group.

The rest is kind of history. I joined the fraternity, learned to appreciate Yankees and six years later I met and married a Yankee whose father taught Billy Graham at Wheaton College.

It was cold and bright on the morning of my wedding. It was 7 degrees in Manchester, New Hampshire. The ground was covered with snow. “The Civil War is over,” I said to myself. Had it not been for Neil Jones, my marriage to a Yankee would not have happened. By the way, it lasted more than 54 years.

Today I thank Neil for making me see things through a different lens.Today I thank Neil for making me see a life beyond what had been comfortable. And, today I thank Neil for making me see the importance of building up others.

Finally, like Betsy, I learned a song from Neil. The tune is not
important. It is these words that stick with me:

     Marching along in Beta Theta Pi,
     Marching along, we’ll rend the air with song.
     Strong in the might of our bond fraternal,
     Friend of the right and the foe of the wrong.

Today in this place and at this time let us remember to “march along” with Neil.

Let us remember to “rend the air with song.”

Let us remember to be “strong.”

Let us remember to be the “friend of the right and the foe of the wrong.”

Let us remember to celebrate the life of Neil Jones, the man Diana says “knew what to do and how to do it.” He certainly did in my case and in yours, too. How lucky we are to have Neil in our lives.

Thank you.