Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Midweek sing in Neal's memory

A note from Christine Farrow-Noble (a member of the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston):

I wanted to let you know about a Special Mid-Week Sing in honor of Neal Gray this Thursday, 11/12/09. Potluck at 6:30 PM will include his favorite lasagna and singing will follow. Please bring photos of Neal, favorite songs, and memories. I've made the necessary parking arrangement with the Cambridge Parking Department so you can park on Mt. Vernon Street, Walnut Avenue, and Upland Road between Mass Ave and Walnut Ave. We're 1/2 block off Mass Ave just south of Porter Square T Station. Feel free to call for directions or questions. 617-876-0952 or Please pass this along to anyone you know who knew Neal.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wonderful PDFs of Neals writings and photos

Hi all,

One of Neal's angels, Sandra Waddock, put together an amazing collection of all of the emails and photos that Neal sent out to his angels over the years. The compilation is broken up over three PDF files, which you can find here:

Part I - History
Par II - Photography
Part III - Last Years

- Lori Fassman

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rembrance of Neal Gray, from his memorial service

Remembrance for J. Neal Gray, said by Julie Williams at his memorial service, October 3, 2009.

Words in quotations are Neal's unless otherwise credited.

I just want to say a word about the weather. I'm sure we would have all liked better weather today. But Neal Gray loved "dirty weathah." You may have noticed a picture of him up here dressed as a fisherman. He's ready for it.

Neal Gray was a realized soul. He threw himself into the moment without hesitation or reservation. On the day after his death, Gisele, one of Neal's many angels, wrote: "He's the only person I personally know who lived life as it should be lived...100%, not 35%, 50% or even 85%...but 100%." Not only was Neal extraordinarily alive, he was a dedicated and talented musician, who sung classical pieces, Gospel, traditional ballads, bawdy ditties and falsetto with equal zest. But perhaps his greatest gift was for friendship.

It doesn't seem possible to be a best friend to your daughter, dedicated to a wide family circle including a son-in-law, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins, (I hope I have not left anyone out) and a real friend to hundreds of persons, but Neal Gray was. He knew birthdays, children's and partner's names, the struggles, tragedies, hopes, dreams and triumphs of hundreds of people. Neal Gray got women, and we loved to be gotten by him. He took over two hundred of us under his ample wing, making us "Neal's Angels", giving us a special T-shirt, emailing jokes and pictures of sunsets he took himself, and sending us handmade cards for Valentine's day, Easter, Christmas and our birthdays. I don't remember what number angel I was. But he would brag about each new angel, "She's a hell of a gal."

Few of you may know that this was a conscious choice, the guiding mission of his life. Neal experienced terrible loneliness after the tragic loss of his beloved wife, Amanda. Another person would have become bitter, or bewildered and withdrawn. Not Neal. He vowed, whenever he could, however he could, to alleviate in others the suffering and loneliness he had experienced firsthand. This is why so many of his angels were divorced or widowed. He was always on the look out for someone who was struggling to make their way alone, often in the face of hardship, so that he might offer them concrete help, solace and joy.

If we are lucky, we count among our friends and families a good listener. Often someone centered and wise enough to be a good listener is quiet and serious. If we are lucky, we count among our friends someone unfailingly positive and playful. But often these persons are not able to hear us out when we are lost, sick, afraid or sad. Neal had both these qualities. He was a truly good listener, always willing to offer comfort to a troubled friend. Neal would listen with care, ask if you were done speaking, and offer simple, well chosen words of encouragement that although they did not deny your reality, created room for hope. He might then share a challenge of his own, giving you the gift of being there in turn. This made you feel strong and useful, and pulled you out of our own challenges.

Then his irrepressible smile would start to play across his face. His eyes would start to sparkle, his crow's feet would crinkle, and he would jump to his feet, a big grin on his face. Neal would chortle "Now what are we going to do for fun?"

Neal has graduated. "Hot diggity!" He is a real angel now. We know his soul is deeply well, and that he is making a scene in heaven, yelling like Tarzan while Saint Peter holds his hands over his ears. But he leaves a big hole in each of our hearts. "Now what are we going to do for fun?" First we must grieve. We feel his loss so sharply because he loved so extravagantly, spread joy so freely, and was such a gifted and multifaceted man. We must seek stillness and honor the need to mourn, listening to ourselves and each other with just as much attention and skill as Neal listened to us. There will come a day when we leap up, remembering with joy what a character our friend was and shout "Now what are we going to do for fun?"

Neal had boundless energy. He stayed up until three or four in the morning many nights, emailing his hundreds of friends. He maintained a prayer list and sang in six choirs. He worked, drove, sang and chopped wood right up until the days before a brief illness took him from us at age 85. He was adventurous, sometimes reckless, kayaking without a life jacket and answering the cell phone from a ladder at the yacht club. "What a revolting predicament" when our 83-year- old friend answers his cell phone while standing on an icy, sloped roof. Neal was irrepressible and there were times we wanted to strap him down. He packed more into a single day than most of us do in a week.

Who will fill Neal Gray's shoes? There is not one person here who could. But I would like to issue an invitation. Let us, as we grieve, think fondly and carefully of our friend. And let us, each in accordance with our own natures, talents, and dreams, pick one aspect of Neal Gray and make it our own. If you want to take up photography, work in to your 80's, race cars, write a book, or ask a pretty lady to a fancy dinner, and pick her up in a vintage convertible, getting the car door, her coat, and the chair, standing when she returns to the table, go for it. What will we do now for fun? Boat parties? Sing-alongs? Casserole potlucks? Join a chorus traveling overseas? Salsa dance until our date, 38 years younger, begs to go home and go to sleep? Strap miniature canons under our classic cars and drive around until we see a cop, then let it rip?

Maybe you would prefer to spread cheer or offer comfort, listening to a neighbor who has just been diagnosed with cancer, picking out a lovely piece of jewelry or a good book for a recently widowed friend, taking someone who has just been laid off or divorced out to eat, or sending Valentine's day cards to every single person that you love. Whatever your dream is, do it. Whatever talent you have, cultivate it. Whoever needs help, lend them a hand. Whatever your gift is, large or small, share it. Neal Gray let his little light shine, shine, shine, without ceasing, without apology. Neal Gray never hid his light under a bushel. Neither should we.

No one of us can fill Neal Gray's shoes. But if each of us picks one way, large or small, to emulate him, heaven will share him with us. We can spread who he was a hundred or ten thousand fold, healing this weary and troubled world, just as he, with his magnificent openheartedness, healed each of us: with his boundless enthusiasm, his high jinks and mischief, his endless support, his creative generosity and his enormous love. Neal Gray was the embodiment of love. How magnificent it was to be his friend. May each of us be lit by this love, like a match touching a candle and catching fire. May the love that was Neal Gray spread infinitely and last forever, through each of us, the people we touch and help in turn, passing to those who did not have the honor and privilege of knowing Neal Gray. Hand to hand, heart to heart, in voice and deed, let us pass along Neal Gray's love like a lantern.

Julie Williams

Monday, October 5, 2009

We never know what to say when someone's loved one dies. People say, "I'm sorry for your loss," and feel inadequate to express what we really feel...

The loss of Neal Gray is inexpressible: one so profound - of such proportions - it seems the hole in our hearts and in our lives is just as deep and as wide.

I can't imagine BCC (or a world) without Neal Gray in it. No one can. We know that his spirit was so large, so loving, and so generous that he will always be with us; and that we will try to honor him through the love and generosity and bigness of our own spirits...

But that doesn't stop our hearts from aching for want of his presence.
God grant Neal peace.
And God grant us peace as well.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Address to send cards

Here's an address you can use if you would like to send cards to Neal's daughter and her family:

Mrs. Michelle Bonomi and Family
P.O. Box 47
Scituate, MA 02066-0047

I'll always be one of Neal's Angels...

..but I'm no fool. I know there are entire harems of women out there (fess up ya'll!) who Neal loved, who love him back and feel the same way I do. Here's the selfish take on how I'll feel Neal's absence:

Who will send me that special Valentine's Day card when I otherwise wouldn't get one?

Who will have the most unique and heartfelt Christmas cards (Messianic or not--Neal's were always the best!)?

Who will unselfishly keep up with prayer requests, allowing me to cover needs from 8 different choir rosters?

Who will manage Neal's Angels--a cadre of women only the most unaffected lover could maintain?

There's only one J. Neal Gray. There could be only one. I'm just humbled that he counted me among his friends.

I love you, Neal, and I'm an Angel forever. Just because you got to run around heaven before I did doesn't mean that I'm not coming. Enjoy perfection. G-d knows you were His perfect love to me.

Kena "Shekinah" Drumgo

Friday, October 2, 2009

What an honor is it to have known Neal. I always looked forward to his wonderful emails and photos sharing memories of his life growing up, building his house, historical tidbits and hilarious, belly laughing, adventures in his many sports cars. And how special he made me, and I am sure all of his friends feel, by addressing us as "Angels". It made you feel as if you already had a spot up there in heaven-I know he does.
He would share his favorite finds for photo shoots and I would tell him of some great painting spots I had found.
Around the grounds at the SHYC you could always spot Neal enthusiastically moving from place to place, always stopping to acknowledge and say hello to all and retell some funny story. And what great heights he would scale to get that perfect photograph, quite literally. His zest for life was incredibly contagious.
Our lives were enriched having known you, Neal.
To Mimi and your family, thank-you for sharing with the rest of us such a wonderful man and my thoughts and prayers are with you,
Peggy Farrell Bruno