Neal E. Yates, 75, of Torrington, CT died peacefully on Christmas Eve at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital.
Neal was born June 4, 1945, in New London, Connecticut, youngest son of the late Ernest and Thelma (Busby) Yates.
Raised in his family’s Mystic home adjacent to historic Mystic Seaport, Neal spent his formative years surrounded by early maritime New England history. As a boy, he played on the decks of the whaler Charles W. Morgan and, as a teenager working his first summer job, created and gave the first horse-drawn guided tour of the Seaport’s reconstructed seacoast village. He was a 1963 graduate of Stonington High School where he was an all-state choral singer. After spending a magical, sun-kissed spring of 1964 in San Diego and Los Angeles, he returned to New England for a few semesters at Windham College in Putney, VT before dropping out and enlisting in the Army in 1967. A life-long back injury prevented him from completing basic training, however, and he received an honorable medical discharge.
When he was 23, Neal met Marcia Casavant of South Windsor, CT on a blind date – he proposed seven weeks later, and they wed in 1969. Around the same time, Neal started as a local beat reporter in Old Saybrook for the Hartford Courant, beginning a 14-year career in journalism. At a time when the newspaper business was still largely local and independent, Neal was the Courant’s news bureau chief for a 27-town region in western Connecticut for more than a decade. He covered countless city council meetings, crafted human interest stories, and in one memorable slice-of-life piece, spent 24 hours in the now-defunct-but-legendary Skee’s Diner in Torrington interviewing patrons. With his trademark beard, glasses, and happy-go-lucky demeanor, he was a well-known figure in Torrington at the time.
After serving as the first State Editor of the Litchfield County Times, Neal left journalism, but continued writing and communications work in senior managerial positions at Cigna Corp. and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital. He was the founding partner of Fireside Associates, a political consulting company in the 1980s. Eventually, he “became his own boss” and established Yates Communication, a writing and production services firm specializing in health care, based in New Hartford, CT. Unencumbered by the 9-to-5, Neal developed a specialty in corporate legacy marketing, meticulously researching and writing centennial histories and memorializing the anniversaries of local banks, hospitals, and medical centers throughout New England and beyond in book form.
An accomplished writer, he parlayed his passion for history, research, and a well-written turn-of-phrase into other more personal projects – a 135-page genealogical study dating back to 13th century Scotland written especially for his son; a 2005 self-published book, “Where Walk the Souls of Heroes: the Stories of Walhalla and Baker(s)ville, Connecticut” about the 1835 New Hartford house and small New England village he lived in; and a nearly completed biography of American Revolutionary war figure Israel Putnam entitled, “The Last Wolf,” that he diligently worked on throughout the last decade of his life. He was also a voracious reader of history, biographies, and other non-fiction.
Through his life, Neal seemed genuinely interested in so much. Though he was no mechanic, he had an enduring fascination and encyclopedic knowledge of all-things-automobiles throughout his life – old English sportscars, antique Morris Minors, Ford Mustangs – and marked time by the year, make, and model of what he was driving at the time. The act of driving a car on the open road – wind, wheel, and tires – held a certain kind of freedom for him, and no road trip was ever too far or too long. Though he could not swim, he loved the water. Growing up in a seaside village, he continued to surround himself with romantic images of boats and maritime history. Lastly, Neal’s early love of singing stayed with him, and he was rightfully very proud of helping foster and instill a love of music in the lives of his son and granddaughters at an early age.
Above all, he was always immensely proud of his family, and would go above and beyond to help them anytime and anywhere. He always cited his son as his biggest achievement, and he was a devoted father who always took an interest in every ground ball fielded, paper written, and concert attended. Anyone in Neal’s circle of friends and acquaintances over the past two decades have also likely heard him proudly sharing the latest news and accomplishments of his two granddaughters, Ava and Ruby.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Ernest Yates and Thelma (Busby) Yates, and his former wife, Marcia (Casavant) Yates. In addition to his son, Eric Yates, daughter-in-law Kara McElhone, and granddaughters Ava and Ruby of Easthampton, MA, Neal leaves a brother Kenneth Yates and his sister-in-law Young Ne Yates of Deland, FL; former partner Kathleen Beyer of Malone, NY; and lifelong best friend, Susan Yacovino, of North Kingstown, RI. He will be greatly missed by many other close friends from near and far.
A celebration of Neal’s life for family and friends will be held at a later date in his hometown of Mystic, when people can safely be together. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Neal’s name to the Bakerville Library Association, his local library and next-door neighbor for 27 years. Donate online at www.bakervillelibrary.org or send to Bakerville Library, 6 Maple Hollow Road, New Hartford CT 06057.
Cook Funeral Home in Torrington, CT has been entrusted with the arrangements.
To send flowers to Neal's family, please visit our floral store.
6 Maple Hollow Road, New Hartford CT 06057