Mary Ann Neel
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Mary Ann Neel
  • April 9, 1933 - November 29, 2017
  • Mesa, Arizona

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Mary Ann Neel (maiden name Lay) was born in Ethridge, Tennessee, on April 9, 1933, to parents Walter Edmond Lay and Rachelle Merriman Lay. Ethridge was a small farming town, and Mary Ann grew up on a cotton and tobacco farm managed by her father. As a young girl, she loved horses, and would ride the family horse bareback.

Mary Ann graduated with a masters degree in library science from George Peabody College (which later merged with Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father bought her a new, bright red 1955 Ford so that she could drive home to visit while attending school. She was sentimental and continued to keep the car for years. Her oldest son, Bruce, would ultimately drive the car to high school for a few months in 1979 while his own car was being repaired.

Mary Ann married Robert Bruce Neel on May 21, 1960, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Mary Ann and Robert met at a dance. They both loved to dance together.

Mary Ann devoted her life to kindness and service towards others. More than anyone else in her family, she would lively engage guests and visitors with a warm welcome, and provide Southern hospitality during their visit. For her husband, Robert Bruce Neel, and two sons, Bruce Timothy Neel and Thomas Edward Neel (always called Tom), she tirelessly worked to help them as a great spouse and mom. Bruce recalls delicious pineapple upside-down cake that she often made when he was in elementary school. Not that fancy, but special to a young child. Tom enjoyed taking her to breakfast and seeing movies together often.

Mary Ann's high school classmates were some of the first to learn of her kindness. Mary Ann was often fond to remind her family of a yearbook caption beside her senior picture, "So full of life and lively fun, a friend and pal to everyone." Mary Ann loved sports, and played on the basketball team in both high school and junior high. She also often enjoyed watching football and tennis on television, especially with her sons.

Mary Ann grew up in Tennessee and was always a Southerner at heart. She was the youngest child in her family of five siblings. Her youngest brother early passed away due to the same childhood illness that Mary Ann survived. She loved her parents and family, and had a special relationship with her older sister, Betty.

Mary Ann briefly lived in Connecticut when Bruce and Tom were in elementary school, but she yearned to go "home" (i.e. return to the South). Ultimately, Mary Ann and Robert settled in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, living near Burtonsville, Maryland. Washington seemed to satisfy Mary Ann as she became engaged working as a technical librarian at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for over 20 years. Employees of the NRC routinely sought her help with technical research to support their federal regulatory work. Mary Ann was always cheerful at work, and worked long past normal retirement age, until age 74, all while enjoying helping others there. She and Robert moved to Arizona 10 years ago to be close to their sons.
Mary Ann is survived by her husband, Robert, sons Bruce Neel (Linda) of Mesa, AZ, and Tom Neel (Jessica Barton) of Vacaville, CA, and grandsons Todd Jeffrey Neel, Sean Thomas Neel, and Jayden Barton.