Retired Chancery Court Chancellor Vernon Neal of Cookeville, who served this area as a state legislator and then as a judge in the 13th Judicial District (which includes DeKalb County) for many years, died Friday at the age of 85.
IN MEMORY OF CHANCELLOR NEAL, CHANCERY COURT AND ALL CLERK AND MASTERS OFFICES FOR THE 13TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT INCLUDING DEKALB COUNTY WILL BE CLOSED ON TUESDAY, MARCH 7.
According to the Herald-Citizen, Neal suffered a stroke on February 23 just as he finished his daily three-mile walk in his neighborhood. He was taken to Cookeville Regional Hospital, where he died eight days later surrounded by his family.
Neal, a native of Pickett County, was a graduate of Tennessee Tech and of the University of Tennessee College of Law. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1962 and then to the Tennessee Senate in 1966 and served there until 1978. In his legislative career, he was known for his vigorous support of public education, state parks and natural resources, and public health services, among many other efforts and accomplishments.
His work in the House of Representatives and later in the Senate included bills that allowed for the election, rather than appointment, of county school board members and county road supervisors, bills providing training for the mentally and physically disabled and for the funding of Plateau Mental Health Institute, funding for a public educational television station for this area, and funding for establishing Edgar Evins State Park and Burgess Falls State Park. In 1980, he began a second career upon being elected chancellor in the Chancery Court for this judicial district. He retired from the bench in 2006.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday, March 7, at 11 a.m. at Cookeville First Baptist Church. The family will receive friends Monday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Tuesday from 9 a.m. until time for the service at the church.
Hooper Huddleston & Horner Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Neal was born October 10, 1931 in Byrdstown, TN to Mary Cope and Levi Pearson Neal. In the summer of 1957, he met his future wife Mona Mahan while she visited family in Cookeville. They were married at Algood First Baptist Church on February 16, 1958.
Chancellor Neal is survived by his wife Mona: daughter and son-in-law, Drs. Belinda Neal Mandrell (Tim) of Memphis, son and daughter-in-law, Jeff Neal (Leana) of Chattanooga and daughter and son-in-law, Melissa Neal Gogonelis (Paul) of Memphis. Five grandchildren: David Neal and Annie Grace Mandrell, Taylor Marie and Ryan Oakley Neal, and Christopher Paul Gogonelis. He was preceded in death by his parents, Mary and Levi Neal and his sister Delcie Neal Wright and nephews Doyle and Charles Wright.
Chancellor Neal graduated from Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in 1952, earning a degree in education and business. Following graduation, he worked for two years as a salesman for Spur Oil Company. He then attended the University Of Tennessee College Of Law and in 1956 obtained a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. In 1957, he returned to Cookeville and began his career and passion for the legal profession.
In 1962, Judge Neal ran his first political race as Direct Representative of Putnam County, now known as state House of Representatives. During two terms as representative, he sponsored legislation permitting counties to elect school board members and road supervisor, strengthened laws that made it more difficult for public figures to mishandle public funds and supported area training for the mentally and physically disabled.
In 1966, Representative Neal became State Senator, representing the 14th State Senate District. During his first term, Senator Neal introduced a resolution designating the Edgar Evins State Park honoring the late father of Congressman Joe L Evins. Senator Neal was a champion for mental health services and obtained funding for the establishment of Plateau Mental Health Institute and supported education and training for those with intellectual and physical disabilities, serving on the Boards of Pacesetters and the Board of State Vocational Training. During his third term, Senator Neal expanded state funding for local state parks, and obtained state funding for an educational television station for the Upper Cumberland (WCTE), strengthened drunken driving legislation and increased retirement for teachers and state employees. During his final term, Senator Neal was appointed by the Lieutenant Governor to the State Calendar Committee, which mandates resolutions allowed to move forward to the senate floor, he served as secretary of the state education committee, member of the judiciary committee and general welfare and environment committee. Senator Neal sponsored legislation requiring all newborns to be screened for PKU for prevention of mental disability and with his colleague Representative Tommy Burks, acquired state funding for Burgess Falls State Park and expansion of Tennessee Technological University including Tucker Stadium, Hooper Eblen Center and Bryant Fine Arts. At the conclusion of this state service, Senator Neal was honored by the “Friends of Education” and during the dinner, TTU President Roaden stated “Senator Neal’s leadership can be described as being a committed states man with faith in our future.” Dr. Roaden further stated, “One of the mountains in the Upper Cumberland should be named Mt. Vernon.”
In 1980, retired State Senator Neal was elected as Chancellor of the 13th Judicial District and served in this capacity for 26 years. “I’d like to think I made a difference in people’s lives.” During Chancellor Neal’s tenure, he was estimated to have heard over 35,000 cases. In an interview at the time of his retirement, Chancellor Neal stated, “We are blessed with outstanding lawyers in the 13th Judicial District, and I believe they compare with lawyers anywhere in the state; good lawyers make a judge’s job so much easier.”
Chancellor Neal had a Life Well-Lived and always prioritized his life accordingly: God, family and career. His first priority was his faith and service to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He first attended Algood First Baptist Church where he served as deacon, Sunday school teacher and Training Union Director. He went on to be an organizing member of Midway Baptist Church where he continued to serve in leadership roles including deacon and Sunday school teacher. He and Mona attended Cookeville First Baptist Church where he served as Sunday school teacher and was recently appointed to the personnel committee. He so loved his First Baptist Church community where he loved traveling with the “Happy Travelers” and was known as the Candy Man to those that sat with him during church service.
His children have great memories of campaigning for their father, time on the family boat at Center Hill Lake, family vacations “sponsored by papa” and UT football. He was a Volunteer for Life and loved Rocky Top. Although he and Mona traveled and visited all states, his favorite place was at home in Cookeville and visiting his family and friends in Pickett County.
In retirement, Chancellor Neal woke at 4:45am: begin his day with prayer and reading the Bible, check the commodity futures for the day, prepare his computer, pen with pad for commodity trading, but not until he made his three mile walk. At 5:15am he started his walk with his dear friends Jean and Bobby Davis and Alda Levenvosky. The Judge would give Bobby the commodities report, while Alda would give him an update on Chancery Court. Chancellor Neal was a strongly regimented man with his exercise and diet, adding vitamin supplements according to latest reports from his Harvard Health and Mayo Clinic Newsletters. In the afternoon, he would break from his commodity and stock calculations and would treat himself to black coffee and one circus peanut. Two mornings each week Judge Neal would break from his breakfast routine, on Wednesday mornings he joined his First Baptist Men’s Prayer Breakfast and on Friday he and Mona routinely met lifelong friends, Charlene and Bill Huddleston. Judge Neal and Mona were known to frequent the local restaurants for lunch during the week and dinner every Friday night. And in keeping with his healthy lifestyle, he would always eat the grilled fish or salmon. Everyone knew where to find the Judge and Mona, according to the day of the week. Judge Neal loved lunch dates with retired lawyers and judges and affectionately referred to the group as, “Old Codgers.” Every Friday morning, Judge Neal made his weekly visit to Citizens Bank where he also served on the Board of Directors. His energy, passion to serve and zest for life will be missed by all of those that knew this wonderful man. As Judge Neal always told his children, “If you act enthusiastic, then you will be enthusiastic.” May we use Judge Neal’s life example in showing his same enthusiasm in service to the Lord and others as we move forward.
Honorary Pallbearers will be Judges and Attorneys of the Upper Cumberland Bar Association, Gertis Carr, William Huddleston, and Gib Taylor.
Active Pallbearers will be Dr. Scott Copeland, Dr. Bobby Davis, Russ Quay, Ryan Neal, Paul Gogonelis, Christopher Gogonelis, Neal Mandrell and Dr. Tim Mandrell.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to First Baptist Church, Operation Christmas Child: Samaritans’ Purse. 2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Peace and "Talley Ho!".
Hooper-Huddleston & Horner Funeral Home in charge of arrangements (931) 526-6111. You may share your thoughts and memories at www.hhhfunerals.com.