I married Sandy in 1972. Our marriage would always serve as a connection to Plainview, her childhood home. The truth of it is that to an outsider looking in, Plainview just doesn’t look like much, just another dusty West Texas farming community. However, for those who were reared there, it is special – it is home – and as the old adage goes, “Home is where the heart is.”
The truth be told, Plainview is home to some of the nicest and kindest people I have ever known. There is no better example of that truth than my friend, Neal Burnett. I have known of Neal for most of my married life, but I have personally known Neal for the past ten years or so. Let me explain. Neal has been a farmer in Plainview for most of his adult life; but then again, he has always been a man with several irons in the fire. For a number of years he also owned and operated a service station in Plainview. It was a full-service station back in the day when those were around. I suppose the first time I met Neal it was at that service station, as Sandy’s Dad had a charge account there for years. During visits to Plainview, I would often ride around the farms with Billy and he would occasionally stop by Neal’s station. It was a rather common thing to run into Neal at his station. Sometimes, he would even work the driveway, greeting customers, and cleaning windshields. Years later I would get to know Neal personally in Rockport. He and his lovely wife, Donna, maintain a second home here and normally spend the winter months here, as Plainview can get terribly cold in the winter months. Neal and Donna are members of the Sunday school class I teach at First Baptist Church. In fact, there are several former Plainview folks in the class such as Roger and Betty Horan and Jerry and Betty Mickey. Up until recently, Glenn and Harriet McGuire and L. D. and Betty Ballard were also members of the class. There is usually a steady stream of Plainview visitors coming to the class throughout the year.
Neal was what is described today as a progressive farmer. I think that means he was forward-looking and welcoming of modern technology as it was introduced to agribusiness. He was a successful farmer; and, of course, that is a relative term as farming is a year-by-year enterprise and some years are better than others.
I am not sure of all of the professional entities to which Neal belonged, but I do know that he was involved with Farm Bureau, a Texas mutual insurer, and I know that he sat on the Board of the National Corn-Grower’s Association. I ran into him in the Atlanta airport years ago as I was returning home from a seminar in Boston and he was headed to an Annual Meeting in Orlando. I believe Neal was the only Texas farmer to serve on that Board.
Neal was also a good citizen of Plainview and Hale County and served his community for years. He served in the Plainview ISD Board for many years (elected), even serving as Chairman of the Board for several years. He also served in the thankless role of Chairman of the Hale County Appraisal District (appointed). That entity under State law establishes and sets the value of property for the taxing entities. Truth be told, that is a non-paying job from which most folks would run – and I would be the leader of that pack. Neal also served as a County Commissioner (elected) for several terms. Of course, Neal served in many other capacities over the years to help his community. He and Donna have also both been active members of First Baptist Church—Plainview all of their adult lives.
Neal is a strikingly handsome man, while Donna is both elegant and beautiful. She is a grand lady with not many equals. Together, they are quite the couple. They produced and raised a lovely family, and that family continues to grow year by year, and they lovingly welcome each addition. For them, family is everything. Their children both love and adore them. It is a lovely thing to observe that family as they submit to the Biblical instruction of “Honor thy Father and Mother/” In that context, I don’t suppose I have ever heard a grown man speak as lovingly and respectfully of a parent as Neal does his own Father. I am deeply touched by the obvious love, respect, and admiration Neal still displays today for his Dad who passed away over 40 years ago!
Neal is just an easy man to like and enjoy hanging out with. He always treats others with kindness and respect. He is not like some who enjoy cheap shots at friends and acquaintances all in the name of making a joke. Neal is a man with good social skills and graces. He is also extremely funny and is gifted with a wonderful sense of humor. He knows how to tell a joke and how to deliver a punch line. I recall one day a group of us were about to have lunch at a place in Mexico. As we perused the menu, one of the guys spotted one entree he found interesting and said, “They have frog legs, anyone interested?” I chuckled and asked Neal if he had ever eaten them. Neal looked so serious and in his dry wit, calmly said, “I loved them, but I had to stop eating them as I had a bad reaction to them!” I was surprised and, of course inquired about the reaction, he smiled sheepishly and said, “They make me awfully jumpy!” I belly laughed, as did everyone else at the table. It can actually be dangerous to eat or drink anything around Neal, as his humor can cause you to choke or spew out whatever you might have just put into your mouth.
I am going to bring this to a close here. If I tried to list the funny things about my friend, Neal, I would never finish this blog. Just let it suffice for me to say that Neal is absolutely one of the kindest, most genuine men I know. He is as honest as the day is long and he is filled with integrity. Several years back, Neal sponsored me on a Walk to Emmaus. I will never forget the sight of that good man carrying my bag into the Mercy Center like a bell-boy at a hotel. It was something that seriously humbled me and served to prepare my heart for what would happen over the next few days.
I love, respect, and admire him, his darling wife, and his entire family. They are all very special people, but then . . . the apple never falls far from the tree.