Robert Joseph Neal
Feb 12, 1933 – Feb 2, 2015
Noted Packard historian and author Robert Joseph Neal died on February 20, 2015, at age 82.
Mr. Neal wrote many books over a period of 48 years, the last few on aspects of Packard history no other author tackled, and in areas of great interest to Packard owners and admirers. His first book was "Smith & Wesson 1857-1945," published in 1966 by A.S. Barnes & Co. Many more books and articles followed on his favorite topics of Smith & Wesson firearms and Packard cars.
His Packard book titles include "Packards at Speed," from 1995, "Master Motor Builders," from 2000, "A Technical and Operational History of the Liberty Engine," from 2009, "Packard 1948 to 1950," from 2011 and his latest, just completed book "Packard 1951 to 1954," from 2014. These followed and were intermingled with many magazine articles on the two subjects for various Packard club publications and gun magazines. A 1950 Custom Eight Sedan and 1954 Cavalier remain after a collection that included a 1936 Twelve 5-passenger coupe, a 1941 One Twenty coupe and 1955 and 1956 Caribbeans, among others. Bob contracted the Packard bug from his parents, who had a nice array of Packards that introduced him to the finest of automobiles. Bob was very active in local and national Packard Club activities.
Bob was born at Four Mile Tree Plantation, Surry County, VA, on February 12, 1933, near Jamestown. After a brief move to Chase City, VA, Bob and his older brother Donald grew up in Suffolk, VA, near Norfolk. Bob was led to Christ at an early age and his Christian beliefs guided him throughout his life.
A computer and radio expert by profession, Bob decided on his electronics career while in the service of his country in the Army Signal Corps from 1954 to 1956, after a lifetime interest in radio and electronics. Bob later completed a course at RadarSchool in New Jersey and was then transferred to Okinawa, assigned to the Radio Propagation Research Unit. After his enlistment was up he was offered a job by the Army in Antarctica, which he declined in favor of a warmer job in 1956 with IBM as a Field Engineer in the new computer technology area. While in New York for IBM training, Bob bought his first Packard in 1956, a new 1955 Clipper Custom Constellation. Also, he met his first wife there, Helen F. Gordon, a Maine native who worked for the Rand Corp. which was developing the program system of the big, new SAGE* Air Force computer. They were married in 1958 and later moved to Arizona, then on to the Seattle area where Bob worked on IBM equipment that was leased to Boeing. He was busy with his family which now counted two sons, Church activities and the new and exciting field of computer technology. In 1968 Bob was promoted to IBM's highest technical field engineering position as Field Engineering Specialist. Helen died of cancer in 1978 after a difficult illness.
Guns were an important interest as a teenager. His first was an 1873 Colt Single Action revolver. Smith & Wesson firearms became his next and primary gun interest. After acquiring a few examples and spending time on significant research, his first book followed in 1966. It was published in German in 1989. Packard collecting continued with a few more models in residence over the next few years.
Bob met his next wife in 1981, Donna Fricks, and they were married in 1984. During their first years of marriage, Donna was kept busy with her landscape maintenance and commercial cleaning business, while Bob traveled extensively across the lower 48, and Alaska, troubleshooting IBM computer equipment. Retiring from IBM in 1986, Bob worked alongside his wife in her business. There was also time to begin some serious books on Smith & Wesson and Packard, some of which were award winners. This would be Bob's most productive time at his favorite subjects. But another sad event came too early for Bob, when he lost Donna to lung cancer in 2008.
Writing and research helped to keep his mind on happier topics. Bob had a very productive life as a historian of both the Smith & Wesson Company and the Packard Motor Car Company. During his earlier years he published 4 books and 21 magazine articles on the Smith & Wesson Company. After his interest turned mainly to Packard he published 5 books (about 750,000 words) and 44 magazine articles (about 250,000 words) on the subject and in doing so became the largest single producer of published Packard history of his generation.
Bob mentions in a book on family history, published in 2014, that he had a "good life and God has blessed me
greatly." We all should look forward to be reunited with family and friends when we all meet in heaven.
He is survived by two children by his first wife, K. Kevin Neal and Gordon E. Neal, his five step children, Robert E Fricks, Jr., Teresa L. George, Ronald E. Fricks, Raymond E. Fricks and Richard E. Fricks and a multitude of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
*SAGE. stood for "Semi-Automatic Ground Environment." SAGE was the most ambitious computer project ever undertaken, which required over 800 programmers and the technical resources of some of America's largest corporations. It was started in the 1950s and was operational by 1963. It remained in continuous operation until 1983. At 250 tons and 60,000 vacuum tubes, it was the largest, heaviest and most expensive computer system ever built.
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