Voices: Remembering a friend with laughter

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Not until his later years did Jerry Neill have the time needed to hone his woodcarving skills, but when he did, he was relentless, turning out small art objects that soon cluttered his workshop.

For about six decades, he and his wife Judy were immersed in Christian service—him centering primary efforts on church music ministry and her fully yoked. They reared two daughters, Kristi and Kasey, who are now Mrs. Sam Perry and Mrs. Brad Reedy, respectively. Judy also taught private piano lessons for a half-century.

Jerry and Will Rogers would have hit it off, each regaling the other with jokes and stories, all laced with laughter that were hallmarks of both lives.

A Lubbock native and graduate of Lubbock High School, Texas Tech and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jerry never retired until last year. After serving as youth minister at First Baptist Church of Garland, he was minister of music and youth at First Baptist Church in Snyder for 17 years.

In 1989, they relocated to Palestine, in East Texas, where he was music minister at Southside Baptist Church for 17 years. Then, he accepted what he thought was to be an interim music assignment at Faith Church, near Tyler. The “interim” stretched over 14 years.

Not until 2021 did the Neills sign off on full-time Christian service, moving to Glen Rose to be nearer their daughters and their families.

That’s when the woodcarving accelerated, with objects stacking up when COVID suddenly claimed Jerry’s life on August 26. He died in a matter of days, this musical giant who was 81.

Remembering friends

At his memorial service, his “word in wood testimony” was printed in the program. It was a heart-touching account of his relationship with the Lord that began in 1951, when he was 10 years of age.

Dozens of his art pieces were displayed at his funeral, and guests chose items to take home. Many had biblical sayings attached. One read, “Real Men Use Duct Tape,” and another read, “A Grouch Lives in this House.” These hand-carved items will help friends remember a wonderful friend and Christian servant.

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My wife and I knew the Neills during our five-years in Snyder. Judy taught all three of our daughters in weekly piano lessons. As a result, all three were accompanists for church and school choirs. We admired them greatly, as well as their daughters and families.

Judy learned early on her hubby would ever thrive on practical joking, some of it bordering on impractical. One Sunday service stands out.

Our pastor was flanked by the minister of education who had thick, gray hair, and Jerry, who wore hair pieces of varying quality over several decades.

That day, Jerry was sporting a new hairpiece. The education minister’s hair drew attention, because he obviously was the victim of a “dye job” that went terribly wrong. It had a purplish hue.

Looking first at one and then the other, our pastor observed: “Oh my soul. One dyes it and the other buys it.”

Don Newbury, retired president of Howard Payne University, writes weekly and speaks regularly. This article is adapted from his regular column, ‘The Idle American.’ Newbury can be contacted via email: [email protected]; phone: (817) 447-3872; Twitter: @donnewbury and Facebook: Don Newbury. The views expressed are those solely of the author. Published by permission.

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