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Community remembers Dorothy Neil

Dorothy Neil had the last words at her memorial service. But no one read a final column or poem. Instead, Neil appeared on a video which had been recorded in February. The PBY Memorial Association arranged the studio time so Neil, a 94-year-old historian and writer, could tape her memories of Oak Harbor before and after the arrival of the Navy’s 1941 arrival.

In excerpts from the video, Neil recalled life in Oak Harbor during the Great Depression.

“I was a farmer’s wife. We had a cow, chickens, the garden and fruit trees. One year we had two pigs. We were well-off for those times.”

“We were all shocked when Maylor sold that beautiful land (to the Navy),” she said on the video. “Acres of woods and field for $52,000.”

A pause.

“You could hardly buy a doghouse for that now.”

Light ripples of laughter ran through the audience at that quip.

She also explained her views on life with wit and wisdom.

As Neil reflected, she condensed in a few sentences her focus on life.

“I’ve never been bored. I never tried,” Neil said.

She credited people and friends with keeping her attention and interest.

“People make themselves bored. A person who is bored has no interests.”

And, as always, Neil centered on her thoughts on where she’d lived.

“In small towns, you can take part,” she said. “There’s always something you can do to do good for the community, to raise money for a good cause.”

At her memorial service, community leaders told stories of Dorothy encounters. They alluded to Dorothy-isms. And all celebrated her long, full life filled with music, laughter and art.

Barney Beeksma explained the real reason Neil, who was of Irish heritage, received her honorary Dutch “citizenship.” For years, Neil regularly attended Sunday evening services at First Reformed Church.

“She was probably looking for material for an article,” he said.

Beeksma recognized a life-long dream of seeing Wallie Funk walk to the pulpit at First Reformed Church. Chuckles bounced around the church at Beeksma’s well-timed verbal zing at Funk.

Funk, the former publisher of the Whidbey News-Times, recalled meeting Dorothy and after a two-hour lunch, hiring her.

“In our 25 years here, Dorothy was our guiding soul and guiding friend,” Funk said.

Mayor Patty Cohen spoke of making drop-in visits with Neil at her home and always being welcomed into the Neil parlor with outstretched arms. Neil had a “grand love affair with Oak Harbor” and celebrated that love every day with her storytelling, Cohen said.

But nothing was too wordy, too sloppily sentimental.

It was a memorial service Dorothy would have appreciated. As a writer and columnist, Neil knew the value of well-chosen words and matching her audience’s attention span. Neil’s writing showed how well she knew her community.

“People want small town news,” Neil often said.

For nearly 60 years, Neil wrote about everyone’s friends and neighbors and her column “Top O’ The Morn” focused on Whidbey Island history and the history of its families.

Rev. David Templin of Whidbey Presbyterian Church said he expected to arrive in heaven and see Jesus “with Dorothy Neil close by taking notes.”

In the final moments of the video, Neil spoke about her favorite things: people and Oak Harbor.

“I’ve seen Oak Harbor grow from two blocks of wooden buildings on Pioneer Way to today … a growing city.

So many new people came in and I made friends with many of them.

It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Top O’ the morn, Barney.

I had an absolutely wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday with Mel and Mary Lee, hugging and catching up on all the news. Please be sure and greet all my friends at the memorial service on Thursday — I do hope a few show up.

You know, Barney, as much as I loved Whidbey Island and thought it was beautiful, this place is simply heavenly. It’s as green as Ireland, and the streets really are made of gold!

God’s Son shines every day and Jesus reigns as king — and tell Patty and Al that there is no city council to put up with here. I look forward someday to seeing all my friends who love and serve the Lord as I do. But don’t hurry. Take your time, we’ve got all of eternity here. And, oh yes, we have coffee every day here at three in the afternoon.

And Barney, please thank everyone for making my life so darn much fun!

Love,

Dorothy

Barney Beeksma wrote what he interprets as Dorothy Neil’s final Top O’ The Morn column. Beeksma read the note during Neil’s memorial service May 13. Beeksma recalled growing up knowing Neil’s children. When he visited Neil last week, she told him she wanted “To go see Mel and Mary Lee.” Mel Neil was her husband. Mary Lee Neil Tatum was her daughter. Both died several years ago.

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