McNeel, 86, died at his home Monday, but according to his daughter, Peggy McKinnon, even his fight with pancreatic cancer could not dampen his spirits.
One camping and hunting buddy, Bill Smith, 83, owner of the Little & Smith insurance agency off Church Street, said McNeel “got the name Hap because he was always happy.”
Smith said he began a 55-year friendship with McNeel after meeting him at a Marietta High School Football game in 1959.
“We just became real good friends,” Smith said.
When McNeel got very sick in October, he refused to stay at the hospice for more than two weeks and quickly returned with a nurse to the country club golf course.
McNeel’s roots in Marietta stretch back to at least the late 1800s, when his family operated McNeel Marble Co., which made large national stone monuments.
McNeel attended Haynes Elementary, Waterman Street Elementary School and spent one year at Marietta High School. He finished high school at Marion Military Institute in Marion, Ala.
Then McNeel joined the Navy in 1945 to serve during World War II.
The beloved family man
After the war ended, McNeel went to The Citidel, The Military College of South Carolina, then transferred to University of Georgia, “which his daddy didn’t like because his father was a big Tech fan,” Smith said.
While in college, McNeel met his wife, Patricia McCormick, who survives her husband of 63 years.
The two were married in Columbus on April 26, 1952. They honeymooned in Cuba.
The couple have four children, Sterling, Steve, Peggy and Morgan., seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, as well as many nieces and nephews who saw McNeel as a father figure.
While discussing her father’s life, McKinnon recalled the days she spent as a young girl riding horses and fishing, when McNeel moved the family to a country home near a lake off Dallas Highway.
“Family meant everything to him,” McKinnon said. “He was the one who loved to have family reunions.”
The supportive business man
McNeel started his residential development business in 1957, building neighborhoods around Marietta, shaping the Cobb community.
“We were growing ... and he filled the need,” Smith said.
In 1970, he began constructing industrial buildings and developing industrial parks in Marietta, Acworth and Powder Springs.
He developed the Brookwood subdivision next to Whitlock Heights, as well as the Westgate, Dunleith and McNeel Farms subdivisions, plus the Cobb-Marietta Industrial Park on Cobb Parkway.
Mary Ansley Southerland, owner of W.D. Little Mortgage Corp., said the Ansley and McNeel families go back as friends for “multiple generations.”
Southerland said McNeel was always encouraging her as a mentor.
“He would call me out of the blue to see how business was going,” Southerland said. “He was always harping on strong business principles” like low debt and being conservative.
The avid outdoorsman
McNeel loved his profession, but he also enjoyed his personal time, which included playing tennis and golf with business leaders in the community and participating in a poker club for 60 years.
“He wanted to live life to the fullest,” McKinnon said.
McNeel traveled to Alaska, Argentina, Canada and Africa for hunting and fishing adventures.
His favorite sport was quail hunting, and many friends will always picture McNeel with his shotgun and bird dog at his farm, “The Covey,” in south Georgia.
Smith, who called the farm “a quail shooting plantation,” recalled riding with McNeel in the bird hunting buggy through the pine trees.
Smith said McNeel was a good shot.
McNeel served on the Board of Camp Juliette Low, a summer camp in Cloudland for young girls started by Juliette Gordon Low, who also founded the Girl Scouts.
McNeel was also in The Gridiron Society, a secretive membership organization tied to the University of Georgia, as well as a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Marietta Rotary Club, Marietta Country Club, GA Seniors Golf and Tall Timbers, a nonprofit organization specializing in research and conservation.