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Mr. Henry Getzen Neal

DAHLONEGA, Ga. - Mr. Henry Getzen Neal, retired executive secretary and legal counsel to the Georgia Board of Regents, and former assistant attorney general and legal counsel to Governor Ernest Vandiver and Governor Carl Sanders, died at his home January 16, 2010, from complications of Alzheimer's Disease. At his side were his loving wife Polly Hunt Neal, daughter Leslie Neal Hilmer, and loving friends and family. Henry was born November 24, 1923, in Fortson, Georgia at the Fortson family home, built by his grandfather in 1858, which remains in the family and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Son of the late Charles Minchen Neal and Frances Fortson Neal, he survived his brothers, Charles Minchen Neal, Jr., Thomas Fortson Neal, and sister Faye Neal Austin. At age 16, he entered the University of Georgia and graduated with a BBA in Accounting in June, 1943. Like many young men, he proudly enlisted in the armed forces, reporting to the Officers Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. After hard work and commitment, Henry graduated as a Second Lieutenant with the 405th Regiment and deployed to fight in France and Germany on the famous Seigfried Line. On November 22, 1944, he suffered life-threatening wounds when his foxhole was hit, killing his runner and his medic. Sixteen months later, he was released from the hospital. Among his many meritorious awards were several Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal. Returning to civilian life, Henry entered The University of Georgia Law School where he was twice president of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. It was there that he became an avid fan of UGA football. A list of other involvements included president of the Interfraternity Council, National Honor Fraternity, Blue Key, Who's Who Among Students of American Colleges, Phi Delta Phi National Society of Scabbard and Blade, Omicron Delta Kappa Society, Sphinx Club, and the Demosthenian Literary Society. Upon graduation with a Jurist Doctorate degree in 1948, he became a partner in the Robert Knox Law Firm in Thomson, Georgia, where he was active in church and civic affairs. Later, he was one of the founders of the First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Thomson. He left his business and professional life in Thomson to join the administration of Governor Ernest Vandiver in 1959. He served as Assistant Attorney General and Legal Counsel to the Governor in both the Vandiver and Sanders administrations. During the Vandiver years, he witnessed first hand the great change wrought in Georgia by desegregation. When the courts ordered the desegregation of the University of Georgia, the Governor sent Henry in disguise to the campus to take the pulse of student reactions. The information he gathered was extremely helpful in the development of a plan that led to the peaceful desegregation of the University of Georgia and prevented a potential racial conflict that would have been tragic for the state. Having served two progressive governors, both of whom were interested in the advancement of education in the state, the next step in Henry's distinguished career led him to the position of Executive Secretary and Legal Counsel to the Board of Regents of The University System of Georgia. He served in that position until his retirement in 1994. In that position, he served as the Regent's liaison with the State Attorney General's Office; he advised the Board, the Chancellor, as well as various System Institutions on all legal matters. Former Chancellor H. Dean Propst says of Neal's service to The University System, "Henry Neal was among the most conscientious and dedicated public servants whom I have ever known. I always respected his advice on what was legally correct, but I placed even greater value on his counsel concerning the 'right' thing to do." Indeed, many others shared this opinion of Neal's thoughtful and wise counsel. In 1975, Henry married Polly Hunt of Greenville, South Carolina. His devoted wife remained by his side with love and dedication for 35 years. His fellow surviving soldiers held a special place in his heart with a bond of brotherhood that never diminished over time. As the ambitious sixteen-year-old, Henry left Columbus in 1940 and could not have imagined the journey on which his life would take him: working his way through the University of Georgia, to the battlefields of Europe, to a successful professional and business career, to the halls of judicial power at the State Capitol, and to a place of influence in the State's higher education system. That journey brought him many varied honors and recognitions. He once said, "I'm proud that God gave me the opportunity to serve my country." To Henry Neal, service, family, and his Christian faith mattered most in his life. Henry Neal is survived by his loving wife, Polly; his son Henry Neal, Jr. of Griffin, Ga.; his daughter Leslie Ann Neal Hilmer, married to Arthur Christian Hilmer, III of Miami, Fla.; his stepchildren Jan Matthews and husband Gary; Peter Zane Williams of Fairbanks, Alaska, and wife Lamom, of Bangkok, Thailand; his grandchildren Ariel Matthews, Adam Matthews, and Lamai Scout Hunt; as well as many loving nieces and nephews. The funeral service was held in Atlanta at H.M. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill, at 11 a.m., Friday, January 22, 2010; Interment followed at the family cemetery at Getzen Memorial Baptist Church in Fortson, Ga, where generations of his ancestors are laid to rest. A memorial service was held in Dahlonega, Ga, (where Henry and Polly retired in 2006) Saturday, January 23, 2010, at 11 a.m. at the Banister Funeral Home on Highway 19 North. Memorials may be sent to Homestead Hospice of Norcross, Georgia, the Atlanta A l z h e i m e r 's A s s o c i a t i o n - Georgia Chapter, or a charity of your choice.

Web posted on Thursday, January 28, 2010

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