Friend. Mentor. Soldier. Shepherd. Activist. Champion.
State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, was remembered Monday as a man who wore many hats but remained true to God, himself and the “underdogs” that he represented at the State House.
More than 2,000 filled the pews of Columbia’s First Nazareth Baptist Church to mourn the pastor and Richland Democrat who died unexpectedly at age 66 last Tuesday.
“Joe Neal represented the best we had to offer,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York activist. “He never let us down. He never sold out.”
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Friends and family recalled Neal as a genuine public servant who offered a voice to the uneducated and uninsured in his Lower Richland House district and beyond. Elected to the House in 1992, Neal was a civil rights champion who supported environmental causes, health-care expansion and HIV prevention.
Eulogists recounted Neal’s love for his church, Calvary Baptist in Chester; for Chinese food; for electronics and Best Buy gift cards; and for his community.
“The speechless, the poor and the needy have lost a great champion,” said state Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter.
Before a crowd that included dozens of lawmakers and new GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, some speakers wondered aloud who would take up Neal’s torch.
“Joe has run his race. He has fought a good fight,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. “If you’re in a position of power ... do something with it.”