Jeff Neal, 1947-2011

3

July 4, 2011 by esarsea

Yesterday I learned that an old friend had passed away from cancer at the age of 63. The news caught me off-guard, and filled me with not only with sadness but with a fair amount of guilt as well.

I first met Jeff back in the late 70’s or early 80’s when I was a Fire Department Paramedic and Jeff was a Deputy Sheriff. Our paths would often cross at the scenes of assorted 911 calls. I remember being impressed by his calm and reasoned approach to emergency situations and his overall compassionate nature. I also recall Jeff as a fairly decent athlete, as evidenced by my inability to chase him down duing one of our annual Fire Department vs. Sheriff Office “Toilet Bowl” football games. I can still see that sleeveless green sweatshirt running away from me…

I came to know Jeff better at social settings, and jamming with him at parties. Jeff was a member of a respectable all-cop classic rock cover band and we shared a love of music. He was a fun-loving guy with a great sense of humor.

I left the Fire Department to take over the management of a private ambulance company and automotive towing service. After Jeff retired from the Sheriff’s Office I hired him on as a tow-truck operator. He didn’t really need the work, but I think he enjoyed staying active – and the public-service nature of the business.

It was during this time that we formed our own band, and rehearsed in Jeff’s basement. Jeff was a guitar player, a singer and a song writer. Other members of the band included Rick Glazener on drums (who was also a tow-truck operator), Steve Johnson (a guitar player I had played with in other bands), and myself on bass. We never performed live, but worked out some very good original songs. I’ve got some old cassette recordings somewhere, and I’ll have to see if I can find them.

The band split up when I moved out of town to be with my eventual wife while she was attending college. After I moved back to Bremerton I’d stop by Jeff’s on occasion. We’d talk music, play music, and Jeff would show me a new song he was working on. We thought about starting something up again, but never really got it together. 

As time passed I got married, life got busy, and we didn’t see much of each other. Jeff would call on occasion and we’d visit on the phone, but it’s been years since we spoke, and even longer since I stopped by his place – even though we only lived a couple miles apart.

Jeff has been on my mind recently, and I had been meaning to stop by and say hello. I had been looking forward to catching up, but you know how that goes. I would make tentative plans but get sidetracked by this and that, and I’d tell myself I would stop by later. So much for that idea.

When I heard that Jeff has passed I went online and read his obit.  Jeff passed nearly 3 months ago. From the obituary it seems that Jeff spent his final days at Bremerton Convalescent Center, a long-term skilled nursing facility. I don’t know how long he had been fighting cancer, or how long he was in that convalescent center. That’s where the guilt creeps in. I feel like I should have been a better friend, and made more of an effort to stay in touch. I would have liked to have been there for Jeff as he fought this fight. But Jeff was a bit of a Man’s man, so I’m not surprised that he didn’t call me. I’m sure Martina was there for him, and well as his son Danny. But still…

Anyway Jeff, this one’s for you my friend. From the Fireman, to the Cop:

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3 thoughts on “Jeff Neal, 1947-2011

  1. billie789 says:

    I wish I had words of consolation for you, but you already know how you feel and it sucks. From recent personal experience, Stu, all I can say is you should feel guilty. It’s a natural consequential emotion to a loss like this. We, as fragile, imperfect creatures, don’t miss the water until the well has collapsed.

    I lost a best-best friend two years ago. He was my Viking Party Brother from the 70’s. Big as me, long, long hair, full dark beard and crazier than a sonnuvabitch! Picture this as a tiny example: We were sitting around a roaring campfire one night in the mountains in southern Utah, about 5 of us. Pitch black all around, stars burning brightly and dead quiet. We were pretty toasted and laid back. Suddenly, out of the pitch-black darkness, we hear,”Live now or die! A-r-r-r-r-r-r-r–r-gh!” and we see a large figure running toward us from the dark sagebrush. It’s RJ and he whizzes past me, dives over the folding chairs headfirst into the blazing fire! Whump! Sparks, ash, blazing logs all fly in every direction as RJ jumps up on his feet and starts pouring beer on his flaming beard and torso. And he’s laughinng his ass off. We all slept with one eye open that night. Except RJ, of course. He slept like a baby. . .who had downed most of a bottle of Black Velvet, several pills of unknown origin and several pipe loads.

    Two short years ago, I’m looking at his obit and thinking about the last time I spoke with him when he tracked me down about 10 years ago. He was still old RJ, drunk as a skunk and desperately wanting to go golfing or fishing. And I blew it off because I didn’t party that way any more. But I didn’t tell him that. I just didn’t call like I said I would sometime. And there he lay in his casket a few days after I saw the obit. According to his brothers, he had several life-threatening seizures over the ten years since we talked that night and of course, I had no idea. He had been living in a veteran’s group home because his was a total disablilty at that point and the VA was taking good care of him. And it was a seizure that killed him. And he’s been living, in that condition, right here in town all this time. And it’s been two years, Stu, and I still feel like shit for not looking him up. . .at all, until he was dead.

    I think the only thing you can do is try to take the time when the opportunity comes up. I drove past the local biker bar on the way home from work for four years knowing that one of my best friends from high school was a cook who worked there and was living in a motorhome parked around back. He had severe back problems that laid him up for months at a time. Then, I saw his obit and the guilt started. Charlie was a good person. The last time I saw him, he hugged me and told me not to be a stranger. And I was and it’s my bad.

    Now, at my age and stage of life, I can underastand why my Dad would always stop at someone’s business or house when we were visiting my home town and just chit-chat for a moment and then we would leave. I was about 5 or 6 and annoyed and when I would ask why we had to stop, Pop would say,”I just wanted to say “hello.” And now I know he really meant it.

  2. esarsea says:

    You nailed it. Thanks for the comment/feedback, much appreciated.

  3. Joanie says:

    I’m so sorry, Stu.

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