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Photo: Courtesy of the Neel family - Neel began work at Woodlawn Memoriam-Memorial Park and Funeral Home in 1949 and remained active in Woodlawn operations for more than 50 years.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 6 years ago

Obituary: Robert G. Neel

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Robert G. Neel passed away on Dec. 19, 2014

Robert G. Neel, retired chief executive officer and former president and owner of Woodlawn Memoriam-Memorial Park and Funeral Home, passed away on Dec. 19, 2014. Thoroughly committed to Woodlawn's ideals and to the communities served by Woodlawn, Bob Neel distinguished himself as an industry and community leader during his career that spanned more then five decades.

Neel, a resident of Orlando, is survived by children Robin Neel, Nancy Neel Brown, David Neel and their mother, his former wife Annette P. Neel. He was preceded in death by his eldest son, Asher Neel, and Asher's son Nathan. He is also survived by five grandchildren: Courtney Neel Bradshaw, Jordan Neel, Andrew Prince, Jonah Prince and Lilly Prince. Funeral services were held on Saturday Dec. 27 at The Life of Christ Mosaic and the Mausoleum of Christian Heritage at Woodlawn Memoriam-Memorial Park & Funeral Home.

Neel began work at Woodlawn in 1949 and remained active in Woodlawn operations for more than 50 years. In 1967, he succeeded Woodlawn's founder J. Asher Peter as president when he purchased Woodlawn. In that role, he oversaw the operation and expansion of Woodlawn until his son J. Asher Neel became CEO in 1990. He designed many of Woodlawn's historical and religious gardens, created and produced the famous "Life of Christ Mosaic," and the Woodlawn Charters Labyrinth. Sons J. Asher Neel (deceased) and David L. Neel assisted him in many of the developments in the '80s and '90s.

Born in Doe Run, Mo., in 1923, he graduated from Bonne Terre High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri where he studied business administration and played varsity basketball and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II in the Southwest Pacific Okinawa Campaign.

Known as a leader throughout the cemetery and funeral industry, he served as president of the International Cemetery and Funeral Association, the Southern Cemetery and Funeral Association, and the Funeral and Cemetery Alliance of Florida. Additionally, the International Cemetery and Funeral Association recognized his contributions by electing him to its Hall of Fame in 1991 — the 13th in the association, which was founded in 1887. His son Asher was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999. In October of 2003, he was elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Museum of Funeral History-Houston, Texas.

Neel, actively involved with many community organizations for his entire career, served as president of the following organization: Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, Heart of Florida United Way, Central Florida Sales and Marketing Executive Club, Central Florida Sigma Chi Alumni Chapter, Orange County Historical Society and Rotary Club of Orlando and District Governor of Rotary International.

He also served as director of many organizations, including: Flagship Bank, Country Club of Orlando, University Club, American Red Cross, Florida Symphony, Junior Achievement, Youth Center, March of Dimes, Central Florida Fair and the Central Florida Veterans Commemorative Committee.

In 1996, he received the J. Thomas Gurney Award from the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce — their top award — "For a Lifetime of Leadership and Service to the Community." Additional awards are: "Significant Sig" — a national Sigma Chi award; Executive of the Year; City of Orlando's Ambassador-At-Large-awarded because of his restoration of Orlando's Statue of Liberty; Kentucky Colonel; Rotary's Paul Harris Fellow; and in 1963, Orlando's Most Outstanding Citizen.

Special citations from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have been given to Neel for his contribution to the Veterans of America. He produced his 50th and last Memorial Day Service at Woodlawn Memorial Park in 2000.

Neel was a Master Mason of Orlando Lodge 69, York Rite Mason, Scottish Rite Mason and Shriner of Bahia Shrine Temple. Last but not least he inherited hosting the annual Kentucky Derby Party from his in-laws, Asher and Doris Peter and continued this great tradition in his lovely backyard for more than 25 years until he was 90 years old.

Honorary pallbearers were The Rotary Club of Orlando, Rotary's College of Governors, Central Florida Sigma Chi Alumni, Past Chairmen of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, Central Florida Veterans Commemorative Committee Orlando Masonic Lodge #69, Past Presidents of the International Cemetery and Funeral Association, the Southern Cemetery and Funeral Association and the Funeral and Cemetery Alliance of Florida. Contributions can be made to The Bob Neel Rotary Club of Orlando Endowment Scholarship at ucffoundation.org/neelscholarship

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