The aloha spirit was strong, said members of the BYU-Hawaii ohana, as they gathered in person in Utah and via Zoom to remember retiree and former business professor and university administrator William “Bill” Neal on June 10. His family reported he passed away peacefully on June 4 at the age of 73.
Loved and admired by those who knew him as a mentor, teacher, friend and example of Christlike living, more than 750 people commented on his Facebook page after his passing.
“I was one of the many Asian students at BYUH,” writes BYUH alumnus Sungil Jo on Facebook. “I was clueless about how to prepare myself to start my career. I took President Neal’s business class where I learned how to write resumes and how to interview for jobs.” He said he was invited by Neal to join SIFE, which later became Enactus, and that lead to an internship and eventually a job. “I am able to support my family and enjoy life because of what he did for me.”
Another alumnus Minoru Komura writes, “[I] wished I could have seen and thanked him in person before [he headed] to the next world for what he has taught me. He is always my best bishop. Alohe Oe until we meet again.”
Alumnus Zac Lovell simply wrote on Facebook, “He was legend.”
Bill Neal and his wife, Diana, joined the church in 1979 while he was working at Utah State University, says his obituary. In 1984, a job opened up at BYUH, he was hired, and that began “a 30-year love of this unique BYUH campus and its diverse and wonderful student body,” it says. He went on to teach, oversee student organizations including Enactus, played the organ at devotionals and Sunday services, served as a campus bishop and in two stake presidencies, worked as a campus administrator, and just after retiring, served in the Laie Hawaii Temple presidency.
BYUH alumnus Jay Park writes in a Facebook post, Bill Neal was his mentor and friend and that he knew Neal loved his family. “As a convert to the church, he made a conscious decision to follow the commandments of god. I remember approaching him for the first time as a student needing a mentor for starting a school business club. He was warm, intelligent and inviting. I came to his office weekly, or anytime I wanted companionship, and he would make time [for me]. He didn’t have to, but that’s the person he was…. I think about this every time I hire someone new in my companies. He established a legacy of love. [My] encounter with Bill was one of the greatest blessings in my life.”
Speaking at Neal’s service all wearing leis were his four daughters, Lindsey, Jennifer, Erin and Megan. Also speaking were longtime neighbor and former BYUH men’s basketball Coach and Professor Ken Wagner, Director of the Willes Center and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Business & Government P.J. Rogers, and BYUH retiree and former administrator Charles Goo. BYUH alumnus and Polynesian Cultural Center retiree Bobby Akoi led the group in singing “Aloha Oe” at the end of Neal’s service.
Talking about his experience attending Neal’s service in Utah in person, BYUH retiree and former TESOL Professor Earl Wyman wrote on Facebook, “In my first church meeting when we moved to Laie, Joe Ah Quinn closed the meeting by singing ‘Aloha Oe’ to someone departing. I melted on the spot. On Friday at the funeral of Bill Neal, I thought I was past that. But when the four Neal girls walked in wearing beautiful head leis brought by Helen Goo from Hawaii, I lost it. And when Bobby Akoi made reference to aloha being a way of life, I lost it. And when the entire congregation joined in singing ‘Aloha Oe’ as the service ended, I once again lost it. I have never experienced the Aloha Spirit like I did in the overwhelming reunion of Bill's admirers after that powerful anthem.”
Responding to Wyman’s Facebook post, retired BYUH Economics Professor C. Beth Haynes, writes, “You describe it well. I was on Zoom, and I felt it.”
Wyman added in the comments of his post over the past few days, he has reflected on Neal’s life and how “because of who he was, he was loved and admired and respected and trusted. He exemplified integrity and was an outstanding example of a man without guile.”
Former BYUH President Eric Shumway also attended Neal’s service. He wrote on Facebook, “It was truly a glorious experience to be in the congregation of Bill’s funeral. I knew there were many more people there then we could see. There was truly a celebration in heaven. Thank you, Diana, and the girls were a truly rich experience.
All four of Neal’s daughter were the first speakers at his service. They stood together at the pulpit and spoke about how their dad was the perfect girl’s dad. For example, they said growing up after taking their baths, he would sit each one down and blow dry their hair for them. They said everywhere they went while growing up in Laie, everyone knew they were Bill Neal’s daughters and they were proud to be his daughters. They spoke about his willingness to help them with all aspects of their lives and their educations including regular interviews with each of them about how things were going in their lives.
Rogers spoke next talking about how his interaction with Neal changed his life because Neal was the consummate example of following Jesus Christ and the ultimate member missionary just by the way he lived. “He was an example like none other,” Rogers said, patient, slow to anger and soft spoken.
Rogers now continues Neal’s legacy working with Enactus, a world-wide organization that seeks “to engage the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders to use innovation and business principles to improve the world” and “create a better, more sustainable world,” says the Enactus website. Over the years, BYUH’s Enactus team has done projects all over the world to improve people’s living conditions and livelihoods including in Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Ivory Coast, the Philippines and more. The BYUH team has an excellent record winning national championships, including this year’s championship, and going to the international competition. Rogers said in his comments that of course Neal would be part of a group where “people compete to see how many people they can help.”
Longtime friends and neighbors to the Neals, Wagner also spoke at the service about how Bill Neal was an incredible friend, had a great sense of humor, was a terrific pianist and organist, and a mentor and teacher who changed countless students lives. “He is an example of Christlike love,” Wagner said, “and we should all do the same thing.”
Goo talked about Neal’s service in the church in stake presidencies and at the temple. He said Neal “kept in touch with BYU-Hawaii students and their families. He was a man of kindness.” Goo added, “The measure of a man is how many lives he touched.”
Another BYUH retiree and former business professor, Bruce Kimsey, writes on Facebook, Neal was his close friend for 30 years. “He was a friend, a colleague, a confident, and so much more. I can’t count the hours we’ve spent together discussing faculty and university matters, church matters, and personal/family matters. …Bill was also the most organized person I’ve ever met. I’ve never been in his office when he had an extra paper on his desk. If he wasn’t working on it, it was filed. I will miss him very much.”
Former BYUH Religion Professor Jennifer Lane writes on Facebook, “We love you all so much…. It was a privilege of our time in Laie to be so closely connected with both of you [Bill and Diana]. You are great friends and examples, and we all hope to finish up our mortal journeys such faithfulness as Bill always exemplified.”
Neal’s obituary says he was born on March 27, 1049 in Waverly, Iowa, and as raised on his family’s farm in Shell Rock, Iowa. He grew up participating in Future Teachers of America, band, choir, drama productions, business clubs along with 4-H and the Methodist Youth Fellowship. He majored in business at the University of Northern Iowa earning a master’s degree. He married Diana in 1974 and then went to Virginia Tech to earn his doctorate. After retiring from BYUH, he worked for four years at Utah Valley University as the director of its MBA program and the advisor to its Enactus program.
Neal is survived by his 101-year-old mother Lois M. Bearse Neal, two sisters, his wife and daughters, and “8 is great” grandchildren. To read his whole obituary, go to the Wing Mortuary website.