Chester, state leaders remember Rev. Joe Neal

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By Brian Garner

State Representative Joe Neal, long-time pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Chester and a member of the S.C. State House of Representatives for almost 35 years, passed away Tuesday evening.

Neal is remembered for his extraordinary service to the State of South Carolina and recently his impassioned plea from the floor of the House chambers to remove the Confederate battle flag from in front of that same Statehouse.

He is also known in the Chester community for his service in the community as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

In her Facebook post, Chester City Councilmember Angela Douglas wrote: ‘Last night, we lost a great man, a dedicated pastor and true statesman. Rev. Joseph Neal, long-serving pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Chester and member of the S.C. House of Representatives for nearly 25 years, passed away. Please join me in praying for his family, friends, congregation and colleagues. He will be sorely missed.’

‘Over the last few months, Joe and I discussed the areas where our visions for Chester and S.C. met. He shared an incredibly inspired vision with me. I am thankful for his wisdom, support, encouragement, leadership and commitment. And I will forever be extremely humbled by his "loud and proud" trust and faith in my leadership. Thanks Joe! Rest, dear friend.’

In a later email, Douglas added, “Joe was a gentle soul who took his divine mission seriously. He proudly walked in his God-given purpose. He genuinely cared about the general welfare and equality of all people. He had a smooth velvety and powerful voice. So, when he opened his mouth, you listened ...speaking and singing. Joe had a passion for the arts and a great desire to see a performing arts and training center in Chester. He was a great pastor, leader and one I could call a great friend. We will miss him greatly!”

Douglas’ colleague, Chester City Councilman Carlos Williams also met with Rep. Neal most recently on Hometown Legislative Day. Williams posted: ‘Rev. Joseph 'Joe' Neal, a great servant of God and a longtime voice for the people, passed away last night. I'm saddened by his loss because Rep. Neal shared with me of his vision, for downtown Chester!’

‘This wasn't just a vision; Rep. Neal had plans and I saw them. I'm sure that it's my duty and the duty of everyone involved to make this extraordinary man's work come true! I received great words of inspiration from him (during the meeting on Hometown Legislative Day).

Fellow House member Rep. John King posted: ‘My heart is heavy. My first pastor, my big brother, my mentor, my friend and my father figure Joseph Neal's journey on this side of life ended. He left to be with the angels and to be with our Father, for whom he lived for, taught and preached about.’ ‘Representative Joseph H. Neal my suite mate and colleague in the South Carolina House of Representatives, the person who protected me as a public servant; I miss you already.’

‘Life will never be the same. Our long talks about my father, my life, your smile, your shaking your head at me when I didn't always say the right thing, your encouragement when I was down, your advice on how to be a leader, your unconditional love for me and my family among many other memories are what gives me comfort and peace to deal with this hard blow. Your passing has left me thanking God for allowing our paths to cross and for you being one of the greatest blessings ever to enter my life. I love you and will forever remember you.’

Rep. Greg Delleney of the Chester County delegation wrote in an email to The N&R, “I will always remember Joe Neal as a passionate advocate for issues he believed in.  At the same time, he was always a gentleman, as well as kind and reasonable. His passing leaves a void in the South Carolina House chamber which will not be filled.”

Rep. Neal was a long-time member of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee (EOC). EOC

Chairman Neil Robinson, Jr. released the following statement on the death of Rep. Joe Neal:

"I was saddened to learn this morning of the death of Rep. Joe Neal, one of the finest advocates of children I have had the pleasure of knowing. Mr. Neal was the longest serving member of the current Education Oversight Committee, as he was appointed in 2004 by then Speaker of the House David Wilkins. As Mr. Wilkins said when he appointed Mr. Neal, 'The students and teachers of South Carolina will have no stronger advocate representing them on the EOC than Joe Neal.' How true those words proved to be; Mr. Neal was a constant voice for young children and the underserved the entire 13 years he served. On behalf of the SC Education Oversight Committee and its staff, I want to express my deepest condolences to Mr. Neal's family and constituents. He will be greatly missed."

S.C. Speaker of the House Jay Lucas addressed the House on Wednesday following Rep. Neal’s death, saying in part, “I can tell you that knowing Joe 19 years, he was an institution within this institution. He was the true measure of a gentleman; his passion and loyalty were a sincere reflection of Joe’s unique character.”

“No one commanded the podium like Joe Neal; if you came after Joe, you understood the word ‘inadequacy.’

“Joe Neal’s words were more powerful than the gavel we use to bring this historic institution to order. His mere presence at this well brought more silence, brought a peaceful calm over this body like no other representative I have ever heard,” Lucas said.

“He earned the respect and attention of every member with his powerful, timely and wise words.”

Lucas told his fellow representatives, “Our challenge today is to honor his memory; our challenge tomorrow will be to move forward without him, just as he would have wanted us to do. It will not be an easy task, but with Joe’s example of 25 years, we will certainly have a blueprint to try.”

S.C. Governor Henry McMaster released the following: “Peggy and I wish to extend our most heartfelt condolences to Representative Joe Neal’s family and loved ones,” McMaster said.

“Throughout his remarkable career in public service, he was a compassionate force who gave voice to those without one, and stood tall for those who could not.”

McMaster also ordered flags at the State House flown at half-staff on the day of Neal’s funeral.

Rep. Neal’s memorial service will be held on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 2:30 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church in Chester.
The funeral will be held on Monday, Feb. 20, at 1 p.m. at First Nazareth Baptist Church in Columbia with a public viewing starting at 11:30 a.m.

The family of Rep. Neal has asked in lieu of flowers, memorials be sent to the S.C. Progressive Network, 2025 Marion St., Columbia, SC 29202 or www.scpronet.com or Calvary Baptist Church, 130 Walnut St., Chester, SC 29706.