OBITUARY: Thomas Henry Neal Jr.


Thomas Henry Neal, Jr. was born on September 19, 1931 at home in Gallatin, Tennessee to Maggie Lorene Cook Neal and Thomas Henry Neal, Sr. He passed away at home at the age of 92 on June 1, 2024.

Tom grew up on East Main Street with his sister Mary Belle and brother Paul Wallace close to many life-long friends. He attended Howard School and then Gallatin High School, each a few blocks from his home. As a boy, Tom delivered newspapers around town on his bike and worked at the local drug store where he learned to make a seriously good milkshake.

Memories of visiting his Cook grandparents on their farm in Macon County, Tennessee, roaming about with his cousins and siblings while generally getting into situations were especially treasured, as was time spent with his Grandmother Neel at her home at the tollhouse on Scottsville Pike. While growing up, Tom participated in the Boy Scouts and he supported scouting throughout his life.

Even though voted “Most Bashful” at Gallatin High School, he managed to convince the Homecoming Queen, Betty Ruth Coley, to go out with him. They married on December 27, 1953 at the Gallatin First United Methodist Church and over the years raised three daughters together.

Tom graduated from Tennessee Technological University paying for his tuition from summer jobs digging trenches for the pipeline and performing general maintenance for the Sumner County Schools, along with help from the ROTC. Later, he obtained an MBA from the University of Tennessee and became a very proud Volunteer. He was known to blast his children from their beds on Sunday mornings with the UT fight song as performed by the Pride of the Southland Band to encourage timely preparation for church.

After fulfilling his commitment to the U.S. Army, he was honorably discharged as a Captain while stationed in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona where he grew to love the desert landscape and the western United States. This love for the West later resulted in family trips involving a station wagon, pull-along camper and on one trip, his mother, many campgrounds, arguments, and if not exactly treasured, at least memorable family anecdotes. His work in textile and shoe manufacturing took his family many places over the years, including various towns in Wisconsin, Kansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He and

Betty retired to their small farm in Castalian Springs and later moved into Gallatin so he could better care for Betty. One of his proudest achievements was working with other local families and leaders to prevent the location of a rock quarry in Castalian Springs, consequently preventing significant damage to historic sites from the Mississippian Culture to Hawthorn Hill and Wynnewood, as well as the natural beauty of middle Tennessee.

Tom loved being outdoors, hiking, swimming, golfing, traveling, gardening, the Vols, and reading and writing poetry and essays. He taught his daughters the importance of education, hard work, and to savor eating a sun ripened tomato right off the vine. Tom lovingly cared for Betty at home throughout her journey with Alzheimer’s until her death on June 26, 2018.

Tom and Betty were active in their community, wherever that might be, which continued in retirement. Most recently, Tom served on the Sumner County Highway Commission, the Board of the Friends of the Gallatin Public Library, the Board of the Gallatin Economic Development Agency, the Tennessee Tech College of Business Advisory Board, the Volunteer State Community College Foundation Board of Trustees, and various church committees. He was active in the Gallatin Rotary Club, the Gideons, and hospice, and he was a graduate of Leadership Sumner and a member of the Tennessee Tech President’s Club and the UT Haslam College of Business Dean’s Circle.

In 2018, Tom and Betty received the Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy for their work in making lasting contributions to Tennessee’s colleges and universities. He was a Mason. Tom was honored to be one of the Old Geezer’s Friday Lunch Bunch, the Sideview Club, the Widowers Breakfast Group, and the Second Thursday Lunch Group.

He is survived by daughters Karen Scott Neal (John Berggren), Tracey Neal Jones, and Lisa Ann Neal; sister Mary Belle Ginanni, brother Paul Wallace Neal (honorary family member Pat Highers), brother-in-law William “Bud” Coley (Mary Lynn), and son-in-law Hugh Jones; grandchildren Coley Jones Drinkwater (Jacob), Erin Jones, Thomas Ray Stuart Jones (Brittany), Marshall McCune (Hailee), Raleigh Berggren, and John Jacob Berggren; great-grandchildren, Hazel Jones, Leland Jones, Hayden Drinkwater, and Malcolm McCune; nieces and nephews Guy Neal, Scotty Neal (Leslie), Katy Ginanni, Claudia Ginnani (Heather), Kelly Coley, Chad Coley (Liz), David Coley (Lisa), Nancy “Sissy” Ferguson (Paul Glen), Pam Chambers, and Steven “Bubba” Chambers.

Special thanks to Tom’s friends and caregivers without whom he would have been unable to spend his final months at home, including Veronica Testerman, Irene Watson, Ivon Uhlman, and Janasia Robins; to Alive Hospice; and to devoted visitors and friends from the Gallatin First United Methodist Church especially Bob Snell and Ted Hill. He is also survived by his beloved and constant companion Big Cat. Betty and Tom were devoted to their church and passionate about assisting young people with limited resources with their education.

If you wish to make a donation in Tom’s memory, consider the Tom and Betty Neal Scholarship at Tennessee Tech (Tennessee Tech University Foundation, PO Box 1915, Cookeville, TN 38505); the Tom and Betty Neal Scholarship at the University of Tennessee (UT Foundation, 1525 University Ave., Knoxville, TN 37921), the Tom and Betty Neal Scholarship at Vol State Community College (Vol State College Foundation, 1480 Nashville Pike, Gallatin, TN 37066), or the Gallatin First United Methodist Church.

Visitation with the family will be held at Alexander Funeral Home 584 Nashville Pike, Gallatin on Thursday, June 6th, 2024 from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm. Funeral services will be held at the Gallatin First United Methodist Church, 149 West Main Street, Gallatin Friday, June 7 at 1:00 pm, with visitation prior to the service at noon.


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