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Obituaries

ALVIN WILKINS NEELY, JR.

Alvin W. Neely, Jr. died on May 24, 2022 at his home on East Hall Street in Savannah, Georgia. A proud native of Waynesboro, Burke County, Georgia, he was born to Alvin Wilkins Neely, Sr. and Julia Abbot Neely, of Louisville, Georgia on September 29, 1933. Their only child, he always said he had a beautiful childhood for which he gave due credit to Ms. Frankie Williams and his friend and cousin, the late Porter W. Carswell, Jr., who would later implement Alvin’s move to Savannah in the early 1970’s. Here, Alvin was to find a hospitable society that welcomed his contributions to the cultural life and soul of this city he came to love.

After a short stint working at his family farming concern handling payroll during which he erred on the side of rounding up due to the tediousness of counting out quarters and dimes, he found other pursuits preferable. Chief among them, reading fiction, plays, and poetry, driving the country roads in his fire-red Triumph with Flopdoodle I or II, his Basset hounds, riding shotgun. Or he would write long letters demonstrating his exquisitely dry humor for which he became famous among the legion of his admirers. Laughter abounded all his life.

His love of language, the education he received from the public schools in Burke County and the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with the many Bible verses his mother had required him to memorize, led to his study of literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He quoted from poetry learned then the rest of his life. Having attended UNC on a naval scholarship, he was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy, served on the USS Abbot and at the United States Naval Academy. After four years with the Navy, he received an honorable discharge with the rank of Lieutenant together with a far more worldly persona and a zeal for travel.

Alvin adhered to the guidance of the Dalai Lama and embodied the Urdu proverb, “Hear everything then do what you want.” His innate tolerance for and fascination by other human beings made natural his call to teaching. Applying himself to the pursuit of his PhD at Columbia University while living in Manhattan, he honed his particularly charming style of insouciance in manner and dress. He then taught literature at Westminster School in Atlanta, Armstrong College in downtown Savannah and at the then-new southside campus, and finally, at Savannah Country Day School.

Finding the life of a gentleman landlord appealing, he made scholarly mentorship his avocation. In his 1887 Richardsonian Romanesque grand red brick home designed by William Gibbons Preston, architect of numerous iconic Savannah historic buildings, Alvin created living spaces he made available for rent to artists of all disciplines, writers, thespians, poets, photographers, and free spirits, many of whom found home and haven for the first time in their lives and remained for years.

Savannah and Alvin went well together. His erudition and personal magnetism enlivened every cultural scene. Together with theater-lovers Anita and Sidney Raskin, with Jim Holt and Jody Chapin at the helm, City Lights Theater opened on York Lane providing a venue for stage productions of a quality and range never before offered locally. He hosted many parties, promoted many causes and people, and freely offered his magnificent home on Hall Street as a gathering place for such entities as the English-Speaking Union and Poetry Society, weddings, showings, fundraisers for political candidates of whom he approved, such as the recent such event for United States Senator Raphael Warnock. His generosity included everyone. Living frugally himself on rents he often discounted or suspended, he never judged someone in need and instead took great pleasure in sharing what he had.

Alvin cultivated his innate gift for happiness and friendship. He enjoyed debating because he had confidence in his own opinions. He never missed the PBS NewsHour and read widely with brilliant discernment. He offered hospitality with equanimity to all sorts, from the acclaimed to the folks who slept in the azalea bushes. He was a steadfast Democrat and a faithful supporter of the Friends of Tibet, the ACLU, “wounded warrior” charities, and all things associated with UNC and the Navy. He perfected the art of having fun, concocting and mixing a mean drink, and keeping up with the obituaries and funnies in the daily Savannah Morning News over a prolonged breakfast, followed by a day on the front porch greeting all comers and looking for his favorite postwoman.

Alvin is survived by his chosen family which contains too many members to name individually, but in particular his friend Keith Howington and his wife Elsie Hill and their sons Levi and Jessie, who gave Alvin the son and family he did not have. Representing this far-flung family in helping fulfill the promise that he would live out his days at his home were friends and cousins Superior Court Judge Louisa Abbot, Harriet Speer, and his constant companions Roger Barrow, Matthew Cockrell, Michael Mahaffey. Crucial to keeping him ensconced there despite increasing infirmity were Renee Short, his faithful bookkeeper of many years, personal chef Ingrid Graf, social planner Jude Register, beloved friend Richard Wofford and neighbors like John Brown kept their eyes on him. As the end of his charmed life arrived, people whose lives he had touched stepped forward masterfully, including Austin Hill and Betsy Cain. From their distant locales, his cousins Ben Palmer of Waynesboro, George Dawes Green of New York City, and Ani Abbot Burns, of Oaxaca, Mexico provided invaluable emotional support to Alvin and his careers.

Alvin is the last of the generation of the families into which he made a grand entrance. Of that generation, the survivors are in-laws Eleanor P. Abbot and Louise H. Abbot, with both of whom he had lifelong friendships. He loved all his numerous first cousins once removed and their progeny remained of intense interest to him. At the end, Hospice Savannah nurses Christie Palmer, Jacob Hollingsworth, and Brian Corley brought tender comfort and impeccable professionalism, buoying all present with their compassion.

Alvin Neely possessed a mastery of the art of friendship and filled his own and others’ lives with joy and good humor. And thus he departed, with a single last sigh, with no fear of the truth as expressed by his friend, poet Conrad Aiken: “Separate we come and separate we go, And this be it known, is all that we know.”

The family thanks Ed Gamble for managing the last arrangements locally. His remains will be interred at a private service at Magnolia Cemetery in Waynesboro, Georgia.

Remembrances may be to the Friends of Tibet, any charity consistent with the values of direct aid to military service people wounded in combat, or the promotion of the arts and historic preservation in Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia.

Online Condolences

  1. Bonita Ennis says:

    He was a wonderful generous guy. I’ve known him since the seventies. Lived in his coach house, had dry martinis on the lovely veranda of his wonderful grand home. We’ve been in touch over the years but our lives went on in different direction. Rest in peace my friend. Bonita Ennis

  2. Christy Cook says:

    Alvin was a wonderful man. He decorated his house downtown so beautifullly. My condolences to his family. May he Rest In Peace.

  3. Johnny Roberts says:

    Met Alvin and the early ’80s, rented a room in the carriage house, as time went on he began to know my family he attended almost all of my family members funerals and then I moved in with him again, just a long time family friend and is such a gentleman, and really my best friend I’ve had lately for a long time, we’ll miss you so so much Alvin peace be with you fly with the angels my brother,

  4. Roddy Ledlie says:

    What a great and glorious person in a great and glorious house. I have many memories of Alvin and his friends and it goes back 55 years.What a really wonderful life!!

  5. Beth Kinstler says:

    I knew Alvin for many years and enjoyed the hospitality of his home on several occasions. Always a gentleman, always erudite and kind, urbane and sophisticated yet down to earth. Rest in peace, Alvin.

  6. Andrew Spencer says:

    Terrific man, who lived a charmed life. Probably my first friend when moving to Savannah in the 90’s. Always one to enjoy a drink on the porch, cemetery. or anywhere for that matter. A learned man who was funny, charming, and taught me a lot about savannah and the south. Forever a friend. Rest In Peace, Alvin.

  7. Anne and Barry Cobb says:

    Deepest Condolences to the family and friends. Alvin was a True Southern Gentleman.

  8. Craig Taylor says:

    Alvin was my landlord and friend for decades. He was such a wonderful man. We always stayed in touch. I recently visited Alvin as always such a fine southern gentleman. Rest easy my friend. Condolences to the Family

  9. Miriam Center says:

    .What a wonderful friend he was. I sold him that wonderful house that he lived in. And some other property just across the street from there. He instilled it with his charm and personality. We shared some great time and experiences. I could listen to him for hours, and I did.
    Good night sweet Alvin.

  10. Ben Verell says:

    Every visit with Alvin was special. When you were on the screen porch enjoying a drink or a dinner at Alvin’s house you knew you were at the right place. Alvin had a special gift for life and friendship. Can’t imagine a more interesting and interested man. Alvin was a prince.

  11. Chris Whelan says:

    While Alvin would say that the expression, “One of a Kind”, was used way too often, he was truly one of a kind. In this day and age, one just does not come across an individual who is so well read and well versed in literature and history. His mind was an encyclopedia, and he was always kind enough to help with a random crossword clue and a smile. Savannah just won’t be the same without him. As the Dalai Lama once said, Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful, but to appreciate this precious lifetime.

  12. Andrée Patterson says:

    Thank you for having made this world a better world…wishing you had not left so soon as much more Is needed!

  13. Edward (Ted) Gale says:

    Alvin Neely was faultlessly gracious and charming to us two Canadians, both as host and guest. No one remained a stranger long to Alvin. We will miss him.

  14. michael maddox says:

    Ah Alvin,
    How did lose touch with you.? We were thick as thrives back in the day. I was just a young Hippy from Texas and You showed me the best of Savannah. I’ll always remember your Rosemary Chicken and our long Gin stoked lunches on the veranda. Also playing penny whistle on the upper back porch and watching the people on the street look around for the sound maker. And trying to tame you Lady Banksia roses. Starnes will be waiting for you with his wry grin. For the good times , old friend! All of my love!

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