John Newton Neighbors, age 92, departed this life on August 27, 2021, from The Hallmark, his beloved residence since 2013. Previously, John and wife Jean had called the City of West University Place home for nearly 50 years. There John compiled a long record of community stewardship. He served as city commissioner, mayor, member of the Charter Review committee, and co-chair of the Senior Services board. His diligent efforts to assure a community resource for the senior residents of West U came to fruition in the “John Neighbors Activity Room,” dedicated in 2012. He was further honored when the West U city council proclaimed September 20, “John Neighbors Day.” Beyond the municipal government, he was involved with numerous civic clubs and organizations, including the West U Rotary Club and Rotary International.
On December 21, 1928, John was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the third and youngest child of Henry Fletcher Neighbors and Lela [Draper] Neighbors. Dad Fletcher was born in Paris, Texas, in 1882, and grew up in southwestern Virginia. By 1906, he had earned a law degree from the College of the City of New York and joined the cabinet of President Theodore Roosevelt to clerk for the Secretary of State Elihu Root. On John’s mother’s side, his namesake great grandfather, John C. Newton, helped create a prosperous family lumber business in Vermont. His oldest daughter, Harriet Newton, married Walter Draper from Boston, and Lela was born in Wilmington in 1896.
During John’s childhood and through high school, the Neighbors family lived in Cleveland and Hudson, Ohio; Arlington and Falls Church, Virginia; and Washington, D.C., where John graduated from Western High School in Georgetown. He followed his two older brothers to the University of Virginia, choosing to study Economics. In 1946, Lela inherited and moved to High Rock Farm in Westwood, Mass., where her father’s Draper ancestors had once raised dairy cows and farmed ice on the large expanse of property. John left college and moved in with his parents to help maintain the seven-bedroom farm house, built in 1830. In late 1948, as he and Walter rebuilt the barn, a restless John joked to his brother, “I’ll never get the hang of ice farming.” By 1950, John’s dreams of travel and adventure won out: He enlisted in the Air Force.
Reporting for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio would prove to be prophetic: John fell in love with Texas. After working as a preflight instructor, he was transferred to the Armed Forces Psychological Warfare School at Fort Slocum, New York. When John completed his active duty service as a Second Lieutenant in the Strategic Air Command in Topeka, Kansas, he continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve through 1957. He often reflected on his military years: “The discipline and organization I learned at that age were invaluable to me.”
As a civilian, John first worked in New York City for Aramco Petroleum, then returned to Texas with Conoco Oil in Houston. Enticed by the insurance industry, John soon found his career niche: designing, implementing and servicing plans for life and health insurance and retirement. Dedicating himself to every facet of the industry, he studied, he trained, he supervised, he taught, and he wrote. John’s articles on life insurance and ethical practices appeared in publications throughout the industry. He garnered invitations to speak at more than 100 state and local association meetings and conventions, and at international venues, as well. John’s numerous professional affiliations, credentials and awards read like the pieces for a game of ‘Insurance Scrabble’: CLU, LUTC, TALU, NALU, MDRT, ALC, AALU, ASP and NAIFA. He chaired the advisory committee to the Texas Insurance Board, designing and implementing required continuing education courses for agents. Clear-eyed and immersed in his chosen career, the John Neighbors Agency flourished for many decades.
The urge to express himself in writing came naturally to John. Friends and family looked forward to reading his annual Christmas letters. He reported in great detail the year’s trips that he and Jean had taken in the course of business or for pleasure. By the time John entered what he fondly called, “Retired-Almost,” he had visited the seven continents of the world.
The most enduring passion in John’s life was music, as it was for his two older brothers. Curiously, neither of their parents were particularly ‘musical.’ However, both John and Walter attributed much of their earliest “musical awareness” to their mother’s charming habit of whistling songs and hymns, coaxing sing-alongs. At age six, John was among the youngest sopranos in the Boys Choir at Christ Church Episcopal in Hudson. Throughout his life, John’s gusto for being part of a singing group did not diminish. He shared his rich tenor voice in choirs, choral groups, and in The Texans, a popular Barbershop quartet. When the group joined to sing with The Syncopets, a women’s quartet, John met his musical match and life partner, alto Jean McCreedy. They married in 1959. A graduate of the Detroit Conservatory of Music and an accomplished pianist, she sparked John’s interest in classical, theatrical and orchestral music. Following Jean’s death in 2012, John found solace and great joy in the music and camaraderie of the Houston Symphony. As always, he was quick to volunteer his time and support to serve on committees and participate in activities. But it was the mission of the Ima Hogg Competition that captured his heart: a national competition designed to identify outstanding young instrumentalists, ages 16-26, and support their pursuit of careers in music. John was named Honorary Chair.
On the afternoon of Friday, August 27, 2021, it was music that released John in his final hour. The Hospice chaplain had finished singing John’s favorite hymn and left him sleeping peacefully. A short time later, John was lifted from this life on the wings of “Amazing Grace.” Those beautiful words were written in 1772 by English poet, John Newton.
John Newton Neighbors is preceded in death by his parents, Lela and Fletcher; his brothers, Walter and Hank; his wife Jean; and also by his nephew James and niece Julie. John is survived by his niece Susan (Richard); niece Cynthia; nephews Clifford and Philip; niece Eve (Kermit); grandnephew Lee (Hannah); grandniece Emily (Justin); grandnephew Ian; and great-grandniece Abigail.
The Neighbors family wish to thank all of you who comprise John’s ‘other family’: dear friends and the devoted staff at The Hallmark; longtime friends in West U and its Rotary Club, and in New Ulm and beyond; the co-volunteers and committee cohorts who, through many decades, shared John’s energy and commitment to helping others; and two special people who put a twinkle in John’s blue eyes, Shirley Smith and Albert Ramos.
We extend our gratitude also to the dedicated doctors, nurses, and aides who cared for John in the last weeks of his life, including the kind caregivers from Vantage Hospice.
Thank you to the clergy and staff of St. Martin’s beautiful church and to the Houston Symphony for their kind gift of music. And our sincere gratitude to Raymond at Bradshaw-Carter for shepherding us with grace through this difficult time.
John’s ashes will be placed privately in the Garden of The Holy Cross Columbarium at St. Martin’s.
Memorial donations may be made in John’s honor to his beloved Houston Symphony at 615 Louisiana St., Suite 102, Houston, TX 77002 or at houstonsymphony.org.