Yes, Neal, this Hyacinth is for you. You always welcomed the chance to turn your email prose into a Hyacinth for the Folk Letter readers. You understood about Hyacinths, for sure, as you did about so many things.
You were, in fact, a Hyacinth for the Soul, Neal. You brightened up the Midweek Sings whenever you came, You didn’t seem to mind the long drive from Scituate to Cambridge, and you were never in a rush to leave. You consistently brought your pan of lasagna to be reheated. Once you forgot your two colorful hot pads, but they missed you and I returned them. You often brought someone – Dorothy or another Angel.
Your 80th birthday party was extraordinary. We Midweek Singers had a chance to meet other singers in your life. You were the center of attention, but you still managed to get memorable photos. You thrived on singing, photography, and friends.
I remember you requesting Plaisir d’Amor and Dorothy would sing harmony. In your last few Midweek Sings, you chose humorous songs. You enjoyed the laughs and camaraderie, and we responded fully to you and your lively, youthful, loving way. You’ll be here with us in spirit as we gather in the living room to sing in honor of you. We miss you and love you and know you’re still singing. I can almost hear you now.
-- Chris Farrow-Noble
And from Dorothy Weitzman:
Words that come to mind to describe Neal include exuberant, irrepressible, energetic, and full of fun and joie de vivre. This makes it hard to absorb how quickly and unexpectedly he died at age 85 from a chest infection in late September. If you get a chance to read the PDFs created by Sandra Waddock - look for the link on the Neal Gray blog in the "In Memoriam: section at www.fssgb.org - you will be able to read his own words and see photos demonstrating Neal's writing skill, artistic eye, and readiness to celebrate and share his life. Neal let his light shine.
Neal's life was one of exceptional advantage in his early years - most only dreamed of having access to the cars his father and older brother bought or the chance to summer and then move (from Brookline, MA) to a large seaside house in Scituate. Neal said in one email that his father was an eccentric, and he certainly had to be a talented person to create a company which was one of two major US suppliers of the "lamps" that adorned the earliest autos, first in gas and then electricity. Before and after serving in WWII and getting married in 1951, Neal raced cars up Mt. Washington, around towns on the Cape, and various "rallies," some of which he organized down to the logos and hats. He also canoed, sailed, and kayaked with a passion, the latter up until a week before his death. He had a daredevil side, was even a bit reckless at times - one eulogist said "Neal threw himself into the moment without hesitation or reservation." For the last fifteen years, after a variety of design and writing jobs in engineering firms, he worked part time for the Scituate Harbor Yacht Club doing everything and anything.
Neal emailed a fascinating account of how he and his wife moved a former barn/later firehouse and constructed their home (from 1953 to '56) up an incline from an large river and marsh area.. Visitors in recent years found a house, neat as a pin, with a great view, terrific deck, a player piano, two spiral staircases, beautiful models of boats, lovely paintings or enlarged photos on the walls, and many other artistically-arranged curiosities.
Especially after the sudden death in 1994 of his wife, Amanda, Neal was lucky to live near his daughter, her husband, and three children - he often had dinner with them. A night owl, Neal regularly rose up his circular staircase to a computer room study from which he descended in the wee hours only after sending three or more emails to his huge list of Angels, family, and friends. Included would be jokes, photos, prayers, stories from an interesting day, and recounting of past adventures and exploits.
Neal's schedule of chorus practices, rehearsals, and performances was dizzying. Of his six or seven groups, singing out love for God in his two gospel choirs seemed to move him the most. Some of his choral groups enabled him to travel to Ireland and the Netherlands in recent years, and Neal made friends nationwide through the Berkshire Chorale Festival. Visiting Hawaii where he had family (with yours truly) thrilled him no end.
Neal took delight in so much; he noted beauty, humor, surprise in everyday situations and needs and kindness in people he met. He also extended compassion and empathy. Quite often he asked those on his email lists to pray with him for those he had learned were dealing with illness, loss, and sadness. In the two weeks before his death, Neal wrote several emails on his friend Leo's worrisome hospitalization. Ironically, Leo could eulogize Neal (wonderfully) at the Celebration of Neal's Life on October 1st.
What else did Neal do? He created calendars of Scituate scenes for sale on consignment. Making the effort needed to get a great shot led him to break barriers, such as asking for access to an outcropping at a private estate or to the top floor of a lighthouse keeper's home. Neal would drop everything if at all possible, to catch a beautiful sunset, raging sea, or glorious rainbow. For Christmas/New Year's and Valentine's Day, he sent out hundreds of hand made cards with his photos on them. (He did not make, but arranged in recent years for Neal Gray image stamps to deliver the cards.) He designed two rounds of tee shirts for "Neal's Angels," whom he explained were ladies who extended an uninvited kindness to him.
At the first FSSGB event he ever attended - a Fall Getaway in Plymouth, likely in 1997 - Neal made his mark in the first sing around when, in both bass and falsetto, he delivered an appropriately dramatic "No John, No John No!" At another Getaway, likely in 2003, he sped into the Charlton camp in his vintage convertible, emitting his greatly admired Tarzan yell. At any FSSGB sing, Neal offered a few songs of hilarity, sometimes some with bawdiness, along with his giggles, chortling, and beautiful tenor singing. Other gifts Neal gave through FSSGB include two summer singing parties, held as "Paddles and Sings for Steve (Bryant)" in 2003 and 2004. Who was not amazed at the laminated guides he prepared to help paddlers find entertaingly described locations throughout the marsh channels?