The Rev. Dr. Joseph Neville

10/8/2011

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Neville died Oct. 8, 2011, of multiple myeloma at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was 72.

Many knew and admired him, whether it was through his work with United Church of Christ congregations, his tender and constant care of his family, his genius for friendship or in his final years, the full flowering of his talent as an artist.

The day after Mr. Neville died, his daughter, Elisabeth Neville, was faced with the difficult task of presenting the gallery talk for an exhibit she created with her father at the Griffin Museum in Winchester: "Eidetic Image: Elisabeth Neville & Joseph Neville."

Afterward, in a posting on her Elisabeth Neville Photography Facebook page, she wrote: "His drawings of my photographs are flawless, as was he to me. I do not exaggerate when I say he is my best friend and hero. I realize this: I have spent my life trying to emulate him."

Hugh Vartanian of Littleton, Mass., was a Winchester High School senior in 1973 when he met Mr. Neville, then a student at Andover Newton Theological School and youth minister at First Church, UCC, in Winchester.

"We became friends," said Vartanian, who attended the Oct. 11 reception for the Nevilles' exhibit.
"Joe was an aficionado of music; he liked his jazz a lot," Vartanian said. "He and I built speakers together ... I built them first and Joe asked for the plans. His came out looking better than mine did. He was an accomplished woodworker."

It was this ability to excel in many areas that most impressed those who knew Mr. Neville.
"People who met him quickly found he was capable of doing just about anything and doing it well," his wife, Elinor Neville, said.

She recalled how after earning state titles as a high school track and field star, Neville served in the U.S. Army, then became a printer at Noonan Press in Boston. His next step was to Arthur D. Little, an international think tank, where he was soon running the print department. An executive urged him to go to college, and he left the job and earned a bachelor's degree from Tufts University. Neville then enrolled in Northeastern University Law School, but was so inspired by working with youths in jail as a law school intern that he decided to attend seminary instead. He acquired master's and doctoral degrees in psychology and clinical studies from Andover Newton Theological School. But it was not his academic credentials that most endeared him to people.

Longtime friend and colleague Rev. Charles "Chuck" Harper of Plymouth said he found a "kindred spirit" in Mr. Neville.

"Joe was not a dogmatic person," Harper said. "He was a person who was always seeking, always looking for more light and better understanding, so there was a kind of an openness and a humility and a generosity that drew people to him. It seemed to be something that wasn't learned -- it was natural to him."

Harper and his wife, Patricia, became friends with Joseph and Elinor Neville. For years the couples were season ticket holders at the Huntington Theater in Boston, and attended plays together, even when they lived many miles apart. After the Nevilles retired in 2006 -- he from the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, she from The Hartford Courant -- they moved to Pinehills in Plymouth, becoming neighbors with their longtime friends.
"It's been very nice to have them so near," Harper said.

Neville served at Maple St. Congregational Church in Danvers as associate minister and later was Northeast area minister for the UCC, working with about 70 churches on the North Shore. He performed similar service with churches in Connecticut for the last decade of his tenure with the UCC.

Harper described him as a "peacemaker and problem-solver," whether Mr. Neville was helping a church find a new minister, dealing with a problem in the church or developing new missions. He also served as an interim minister at different points in his career.

Mr. Neville's final chapter -- as a visual artist who loved to capture the images of those he loved and admired -- brought particular joy to his wide circle of friends. Colorado-based artist JD Hillberry described Mr. Neville as his "star pupil."

"He just jumped in with both feet," recalled Hillberry, who first encountered Mr. Neville at one of his workshops on drawing techniques. "He actually did such a great job that I asked him to keep sending me some of his work as he progressed," Hillberry said. "He would email me things that he had done, and I would critique them, so we kept the relationship going. I have several of his works up on my website right now."

Mr. Neville's daughter, Elisabeth, suggested that her father draw some of her subjects that were to be displayed at the Griffin Gallery (he also conceived and created the frames for her work).
Shortly before his death, Joseph Neville sent an email to his friends asking that they attend the Winchester exhibit, which runs through Nov. 27.

"It was a joy to be able to collaborate with Lisa on this project," he wrote. "It is rather heady to have my sketches bundled with her exceptional photographic abilities. I will forever be touched by her willingness to include me in this part of her creative passion."

A memorial service for Joseph Neville is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22, at 11 a.m. at First Congregational Church, UCC, Winchester.

He was the son of the late Evelyn G. (Byrd) and David J. Neville and leaves sisters Gertrude Clarke, Evelyn Tyler, Jeanette Catherwood and brothers David, Clem, Eugene, Donald and John, as well as many nieces and nephews. Siblings Melvin, Catherine, Hortense and Marion died previously.