William G. Neal started his own funeral home when he was 29 years old, with $1,500 he borrowed from an uncle. More than 50 years later, Neal Funeral Home prides itself as the "largest privately provider of funeral services in Washington County."
"Even when he was a senior in high school, he wanted to be a funeral director," said his son, Michael Neal of Washington, Pa.
The elder Mr. Neal had a natural touch for dealing with grieving families, his son said.
"I would honestly say his biggest attribute was his heart. He just genuinely cared about people, and they felt that."
Mr. Neal, 83, died in the Donnell House hospice Saturday, following a lengthy illness. He was born in Dixonville, Pa., and graduated from Washington High School in 1949.
He attended Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and was an Army veteran of the Korean War, serving with the Infantry, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division for two years, until his honorable discharge October 22, 1954.
According to his commendation, on July 27, 1953, while the 2nd Battalion was under heavy fire, it lost communications with headquarters.
Mr. Neal, a wire man, fixed the lines while under heavy enemy fire, which allowed the battalion to contact command and coordinate a rescue. Mr. Neal, who was a private at the time, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal of Valor for his courageous actions.
He also was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Korean Service Medal, with two Bronze Stars, and the United Nations Medal.
He began working at the Coweison Funeral Home at the age of 15, where he worked for 13 years before starting his own funeral home in 1961. He was on the board of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Funeral Directors, where he was past president.
"He hadn't been able to be actively involved for a while, but up until November, he was still coming in five days a week," said Michael Neal.
The younger Mr. Neal joked that he and all his siblings worked at the funeral home as kids, but he came back after being out of the area for a few years.
"But after being away, I realized I wanted to interact with people on a similar level as him."
William Neal also was a member of the Edwin Scott Linton Post 175 of the American Legion for 60 years, and was a longtime board member of the Salvation Army.
He was past president and board member of the Kiwanis Club, a member of the Syria Shrine, and many other local organizations. Mr. Neal was active in his church, the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, and had been an active supporter of 4H and the Future Farmers of America.
In addition to Michael Neal, Mr. Neal is survived by his wife of 27 years, Martha; son William G. Neal III of Washington, Pa.; two daugthers, Karen Sue Neal and Stacey N. Eakin, both of Washington; two stepsons, Robert W. Kahle of Midland, Texas, and Gary M. Kahle of Dormont; and a stepdaughter, Sheri K. Kahle of Peters.
Friends will be received today and Friday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. at the William G. Neal Funeral Home, 925 Allison Ave., Washington.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Washington.
At 3:30 p.m. today, a service will conducted by the Edwin Scott Linton Post 175 of the American Legion at the funeral home.
Burial in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies will be private and held at a later date.
Memorial donations may be made to Donnell House, Hospice Care of Washington Health System, 155 Wilson Ave., Washington.
Kim Lyons: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1241.