Vale Andy Neal, man of the people

Andy Neal, businessman and community activist.
Andy Neal, businessman and community activist.

Time stood still momentarily for a countless group of people late on Saturday afternoon, August 25, including a tight-knit family unit, as the mandatory phone calls were made.

As the network clicked in, mate rang mate. In turn each fielded the news, sadly news they were expecting but did not want to hear.

Andy was gone, his death occurring at Wauchope Hospital at age 78.

Andy Neal was a man of the people. A man who stood out in the crowd. A man who worked hard, played hard, a man who also stood up for what he believed in. He was a leader and although he possessed a knockabout nature, he fitted in and was comfortable in the company of the big end of town.

A man who succeeded in business and possessed endless energy in community service.

A man, who through all this, never lost sight of his roots, and remained always, a devoted family man.

Andy was not born in Wauchope but his new wife, Robyn was. He and Robyn arrived here in 1962 to talk with retiring local plumber Cr. Bob Walsh.

All they had was their marriage certificate and some personal possessions. They liked what they saw. They stayed, went into business, became first home buyers, raised their family here and became model citizens. Together they developed as true a Wauchope identity as any of their friends and neighbors.

From the Coogee district, part of the heartland for South Sydney Rabbitohs, Andy succeeded Bob Walsh. He was quick to fit in, and drawing on a youth spent outdoors, he made his mark here in sports such as rugby league and surf life saving; all the time building a business acumen second to none.

Always conscious of his own beginnings, Andy became widely known as an employer of a large number of apprentices to the plumbing industry, and he became deeply involved in community life, giving of his time freely in unselfish service to others.

Orators at his committal service, held at the Hastings Crematorium Chapel last Friday were led by a brother, Bill, who delivered a heartfelt eulogy in an expose about a young Andy.

Neville Parsons represented Rotary at the rostrum, followed by the RSLs Bill Starrenburg and Rugby Leagues Troy Terp.

Andy was a great Rotarian. One of the service clubs greatest successes. A Paul Harris Fellow and a former president, Andy held a record unlikely to be reached by many others, that of 50 years of perfect attendance.

At the Wauchope RSL, he helped guide it to the success it became as a member-elected Director for 17 successive years, his tireless devotion to duty culminating when Life Membership was bestowed upon him.

In the rugby league fraternity, he played for the Blues, arriving here as a Souths junior. He turned his attention to administration and rose to become president of the Blues club. He turned his attention to the welfare of junior players and was a co-founder and former president of the Junior rugby league club.

Another of his caps in the greatest game of all was his lengthy time spent as a manager of Under 18 teams at Group 3 and North Coast levels. He held Life Membership awards in each of these organisations

Recognised by the State government for his intelligent management skills, he was appointed to the Board of Directors at Wauchope Hospital, where he quietly worked for the good of health services to Wauchope and district until the system was superseded.

Andy was someone whose friendship made you a richer person. Someone who gave you inspiration. Someone whose personal standards almost demanded you to set higher goals for yourself.

He had not been here long when the Wauchope vernacular claimed him. Quickly recognised as someone who called a spade a spade, a straight talker so to speak, and possessing an enviable crop of blond hair, he became the White Ant and the legend was born.

If Andy ever felt he was failing to make his point, especially while having a beer with a few old mates, he was known to quip: All right, what would I know? I am just a plumber.

Andy will always be remembered as more than just a plumber. He was a good plumber. A special plumber. A left-handed plumber.

He is survived by Robyn, their son Andrew, daughters Liane and Kellie and their families. He is also survived by brothers Bill and Robert and a sister Margaret.