One of the cherished traditions among Quakers is the creation of memorial minutes for members who have served the Meeting faithfully.
The minute is a unique document. It’s neither an obituary nor a eulogy. Rather, it attempts to candidly reflect the movement of the Divine Spirit in the individual’s life.
Here is a recent example.
Earl ‘Chip’ Neal
(December 9, 1945-June 25, 2021)
When Chip Neal brought his family to Dover from Maryland in 1978, they loved everything about their new home except the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant in nearby Seabrook.
He had been hired by New Hampshire Public Television to do a nightly news show, having worked his way up from entry-level floorman in a pioneering community college television station to cameraman at WETA in Washington and then director/producer at Maryland Public Television.
Across the Granite State he became known for the segments he produced and hosted on “New Hampshire Crossroads,” where spent many years traveling every corner of the state bringing unique New Hampshire features and people to a statewide audience. It was in one of those stories that he coined the phrase “Yankee yard.” His curiosity was sweet-tempered and non-judgmental. He also produced segments for the popular weekly “Windows to the Wild” outdoors adventures series featuring Willem Lange.
Although he attended the University of Illinois during the Vietnam era, he did not earn a degree until he worked at the University of New Hampshire for NHPTV. He graduated from college the same year his daughter, Amanda, graduated from high school.
He never aspired to go into management. Rather, he always preferred to be hands-on, something son James inherited.
That was reflected in the family’s old farmhouse near the Cochecho River, where they began rearing a few chickens, sheep, and honeybees. After aligning with the Clamshell Alliance opposing the Seabrook Station, he realized the activists he admired the most were all Quakers, and soon he, too, was worshiping in the old meetinghouse, along with children Jamie and Amanda, while his wife Nell continued at First Parish just down the street. Over time, as she felt her spiritual growth being nurtured more through connections with Friends, she, too, became part of the Meeting.
Their social life included visits by boat with other Quaker families living downstream or around Great Bay. Inspired by what he had read about the Amish and a “why not” attitude, Chip determined to try a barn-raising of his own, resulting in a merry one-day celebration that did, indeed, accomplish the task.
Chip was commissioned to create a private documentary profiling Silas Weeks, who had been instrumental in the reopening of the Dover Friends meetinghouse. The interviews, now available on YouTube, remain a touching intersection of the faithful lives of both Silas and Chip.
Many of the qualities of Chip’s spiritual life also infused his professional career. A fellow producer noted that Chip possessed a brilliant communication talent in short-form and long-form storytelling. He not only saw the heart of a story, he let it speak for itself, time and time again. Where most producers tended to interpret meaning for the viewer, Chip had the unending patience – and absolute stubbornness – to never let that happen in his work. Thanks to his relentless focus, firm discipline, and above all a fabulous sense of humor, time and time again he would dig down until he found the light of truth hiding inside the most humble to the most exalted story, and to let it shine like a diamond in the wide open, all on its own, available and meaningful to the viewer.
As he grew and matured, he more and more thought deeply and broadly about events and phenomena, all with a spiritual bent. Often, this led to rising in the middle of the night to write down his ideas and insights, sometimes as haiku with a snap.
He emphasized the necessity of being centered in the present, explaining, “Life is that thing you’re doing right now.” From that, he had an ability to view difficulties from the side and then provide helpful alternatives to the knot before us.
During his terms as clerk of Dover Friends Meeting, Chip would stand after the closing of worship with the shaking of hands and then, gazing around the room, say simply, “Thank you for sharing your spiritual journey with us this morning – whether spoken or unspoken.”
He loved serving as clerk and treasured Quaker process, especially taking sufficient time in our labors together.
The advance of Parkinson’s interrupted his service to family, Friends, and the wider world, but not his presence. He had often reminded us that in trying to reach a destination while sailing, one had to constantly make adjustments – tacking.
He was also fond of a Navajo prayer:
All above me peaceful,
all below me peaceful,
all beside me peaceful,
all around me peaceful.
He passed over peacefully on June 25, 2021, in the comfort of his wife, Nell.
Memorial minute approved by Dover Monthly Meeting, November 21, 2021