On April 15, 2011, after a long illness, John Lawrence (Jack) Neill died with his family at his side in Jacksonville, FL. Jack was born on a small farm outside of Eldorado, Texas on December 30th, 1925. His family was early settlers of the State of Texas, and it is well noted that Jack’s great-great uncle, James Clinton Neill, commanded the Alamo before Travis relieved him. He escaped Travis’ fate and helped win Texas independence from Mexico in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Jack’s long and varied career in construction began at the ripe old age of 8, assisting his father, J. L. Neill, Sr., on various projects. At the age of 14, he worked on an archeological dig in Yucatan, Mexico, and then as a materials testing engineer on various construction projects for the Army, helping to build bases in west Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. While he was growing up, Jack attended ten different elementary schools all over Texas as his father moved the family from one construction site to another. Jack graduated from Eldorado High School in 1943 and went on to attend Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. During this time Jack, served as a Midshipman in the Navy V5 Flight Training Program until released from service at the end of WWII. From 1946 to 1951, Jack attended Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy, now known as the University of Texas at El Paso. There, he graduated with a BS Degree in Mining Engineering.
Jack’s professional career took him to places throughout the Western Hemisphere. From building airport runways in Iceland and Cuba, to Nike missile sites in the Bahamas, or the Galveston County Jail, or the barracks on Guantanamo (Gitmo) Bay’s Leeward side, Jack made his mark in the construction world.
In February of 1964, when Castro cut off the water supply to Gitmo, Jack constructed a 1.5 million gallon sea water distillation plant to eliminate reliance on the Yateras River and provide a water system under Navy control.
His government service career in Gitmo began in 1953 as the Manager of the Specifications and Estimates Branch of the Public Works Engineering Division. In 1955, he became the first Maintenance Control Director for Public Works Center, Guantanamo Bay. He resigned from government service in 1957, but returned to Gitmo in 1958 as the project manager for the McDonough Corporation, who was building the three-story barracks on Leeward. In 1963, Jack returned to government service as the Supervisory General Engineer and served in this position until his retirement in May of 2001.
Jack’s many honors and awards include being selected as President of the Scientific Club, College of Mines and Metallurgy; Alpha Phi Gamma Award from the National Honorary Journalism Fraternity; Sigma Gamma Epsilon, National Honorary Earth Sciences Fraternity; First Desalinization Congress of the American Continent; Honorary Seabee 1975; Honorary Chief Petty Officer 1982; Ten Outstanding Performance Awards; Six Sustained Superior Performance Awards; and the Navy Superior Civilian Service Medal, awarded in 1988.
Jack was a Registered Professional Engineer in the State of Wisconsin, a member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, a charter member of the Guantanamo Bay Post of the Society of American Military Engineers, a member of the Construction Specification Institute, and a Certified Estimator of the American Society of Professional Estimators. He was also the first president of the Guantanamo Bay Chapter of the Navy League of the US, a member of Toastmasters International, and a member of the American Legion.
Jack is survived by his loving wife of sixty-three years, the former Josephine Flores of El Paso, and their five children, Stephanie Adriana Neill of Fleming Island, FL and Kerrville, TX; Jacqueline Neill Heck and her husband Donald Heck of Huntington Beach, CA; Lawrence Conner Neill; Jack Arthur Neill of Fleming Island, FL, and an adopted grandson, John Allen Neill. He is also survived by his loving sister, Dorothy Jean Neill Mabrey of Alvin, TX and his cousins, Jane Neill Cooper and her husband, Richard, of San Antonio; Nancy Neill Law of San Antonio; Jonnie Lee Dickens Burrell and her husband, Bill, of San Angelo; Carol Lynn Dickens Rogers of Plano; and Sister Mary Neill of California, and numerous nephews and nieces.
Jack was preceded in death by his parents, the late J. L. and Ida Conner Neill, of Eldorado. He is missed.