Cover photo for Bill "Billy" Denzel Neely's Obituary
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Bill "Billy" Denzel Neely

October 9, 1946 — February 21, 2024

Bill "Billy" Denzel Neely

Bill "Billy" Denzel Neely, age 77, of Plant City, Florida, passed from this life to his heavenly home on February 21, 2024. He was born on October 9, 1946, in Pipestem, West Virginia.

As a young boy, Dad was shaped by an upbringing in the mountains of West Virginia. He was born into a loving home, the son of a World War II veteran and loyal mother. Along with his sisters, Lulabelle and Barbara, and his older brother, Roger, he learned to work hard from a young age. There were fields to plow, lumber to cut, and farm animals to look after. Dad often told stories of raising vegetables in the summer to sell downtown in Hinton, WV, to earn money for his college textbooks.

He excelled as a student in the little grade school just down the road from the family home. The one-room schoolhouse had one teacher, who sometimes relied on Dad to help the younger students, especially in math and science. Eventually, Dad went to high school when he was only 11 years old. He applied himself to his studies, graduating from Hinton High School in 1962 at the age of 15. He was voted “Most Industrious” in his senior class.

After high school, he was accepted to Concord College, one hour down the road in Athens, WV. He and his siblings, with another family friend, would load up in the car each day to make the drive to school with lunch sacks in hand. He graduated from Concord four years later and accepted a fellowship to continue his studies in Chemistry at North Carolina State University.

It was during this time that he met Joy, who would become his bride in 1967. Mom and Dad spoke many times of the fun years in Raleigh, when money was tight, but love was strong. Dad was a full-time student, so they did things that didn’t cost a lot of money, like riding bikes, playing tennis, and bowling. His professors respected him, and they would often invite Mom and Dad to their homes for dinner.

As Dad was finishing his doctoral studies, Mom told him he was going to be a father. Stephanie, their daughter, was born while he was finishing his Ph.D. They became a family, and Dad relished the time with his little girl, strumming his Martin acoustic guitar to her as a baby. With a few moves along the way, they eventually landed in Newport News, VA, where their son, Jeff, was born. At family gatherings people would often comment that Jeff looked so much like his father, and Dad would smile from ear to ear.

As years went by, Dad continued to work hard in the food industry, first as a lab chemist and later in upper management. His career took the family from Virginia, to Kansas, back to Virginia, and eventually to Florida. He worked tirelessly for his family, but he also knew how to play and have fun. He was quite a jokester.

Over the years, Dad played basketball and softball with friends. He also taught Sunday school faithfully at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Newport News. He would get up early on Sundays to study, pray, and seek wisdom as he prepared to help others apply their faith in Christ. The family would wake on those mornings to the sounds of bluegrass gospel on the record player, the smell of coffee, and the image of our father at the dining room table with his Bible open, intently reading and making notes.

Dad’s faith and love for family was followed quickly by his love of bluegrass music. He began playing guitar as a teenager, and this quickly became a passion that would last throughout his life. Over the years, Dad would sing with his siblings in a quartet, making their mother and father so proud. When he was courting Joy, he would bring his guitar to sing a tune to her and her family.

In Newport News, Dad led a bluegrass gospel group, the Hallelujah Side. Joy sang with them, too, and they would travel the area blessing others with their traditional bluegrass sound. Many Sunday nights were spent practicing the harmonies and getting the timing just right.

In Florida, Dad joined another group of talented musicians to start the Foothill bluegrass band. Many copies of their CD have been sold and shared among fans, family, and friends. The album includes originals written by Dad, such as “Things that Endure,” an homage to his childhood memories, and “The Good Shepherd,” a story about faith in the gospel. His songwriting was deeply moving.

Dad had great love and respect for people who were simple folks, who shared his need to drop the pretense of material wealth or prestige. He was most comfortable with people who could talk about the things that matter most in life, people willing to build deep, meaningful relationships. He valued his West Virginia roots, hard work, and the integrity of a person’s word. He lived for authenticity, faith, and family.

When grandkids came along, he added “Papaw” to his list of titles. Dad adored his grandkids – Joshua, Shaylee, Eden, and Caleb – and he showed it through service. He would babysit them, take them to events, and pick them up from school from time to time. He would tell them jokes and hug their necks.

At the end of his life, Dad grew in palpable grace and humility. He held a deep and abiding love that was evident towards those whose lives he touched. His gentleness showed in his eyes when he smiled. Dad and Mom grew closer through precious moments of reflection on all they had done and seen. When he passed on from this earth, his family was by his side, loving him and laying their hands on him. This and so many memories are forever etched into our hearts.

For those wishing to attend, a sacred gathering to honor and celebrate Dad’s life will be held at the Luther Vest Cemetery on Mt. View Rd., Jumping Branch, on Saturday, July 27 at 2 PM.   In lieu of flowers, contributions may be offered to the Luther Vest Cemetery Fund, (c/o Ben Vest 153 Oakwood Est. Scott Depot, WV 25560) as a tribute to his love for fellowship on the Vest Mountain. He will be laid to rest beside his infant daughter, Andrea. We will treasure his legacy until we see him again.

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