Joseph N. Neel III, a third-generation owner of one of Macon's oldest downtown businesses, died Tuesday. He was 86.
Neel, whose grandfather opened the Jos. N. Neel menswear store in 1886 on a dirt road that later became Cherry Street, joined the family business after serving in the Korean War as a U.S. Air Force pilot, according to his obituary.
As president of the clothing company, Neel wrote in 1979 to the publishers of the Guinness Book of World Records about the company's advertising longevity with The Macon Telegraph. He was referred to the book's editors in London and received a letter saying they would consider his request. Finally, Neel got word that the tens of thousands of ads that appeared in The Telegraph -- mostly in the left upperhand corner of the second page -- over 90 years beginning on Oct. 15, 1890, had set a world record. The store was named in the 1982 edition of the book as World's Most Durable Advertiser. The advertisement ultimately ran a total of 98 years.
In 1993, the store closed after 107 years in business. Among his customers was Ted Turner, who lived in Macon during the 1960s.
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Neel, a lifelong Macon resident, graduated from Lanier High School in 1948 and the University of Georgia in 1952.
During the Korean War, Neel served in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot, flying KB 29s in the early days of midair refueling, according to his obituary. After he left the military in 1956, Neel turned his attention to his family's business.
While he was president of Neel's, he founded the Menswear Retailers of Georgia group and was vice president of the menswear Retailers of America, according to his obituary. Neel was a charter member of Northminster Presbyterian Church and later was a deacon at First Presbyterian Church, a member of Macon Rotary Club and was a former president of the Downtown Council. He also was involved in various civic organizations such as the Young Presidents Association.
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said Tuesday night that Neel was a worthy ambassador for Macon.
"The Neel family has been leaders in this community for generations, and Joe Neel is no exception. He was a wonderful businessman and a downtown Macon supporter."
He will be remembered for his role bolstering the community. For example, a few years ago, he traveled to Macon, France with Macon officials, including Reichert.
"He was quite prominent in a variety of activities," Reichert said. "He will be missed."
In 2013, Neel told the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University that he always loved Macon.
"I can't criticize Macon. It has too much to offer," he said. "My family have given and taken so much from Macon. ... If you start dwelling on the negatives, you're digging a hole."
Neel's survivors include his children, Marie Tillman Neel, Patricia Bell Walters, Roland H. Neel, Joseph N. Neel IV, Joseph Neel Bell and several grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Marie Butler Neel.
The family will welcome friends from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at Snow's Memorial Chapel on Cherry Street. A celebration of Neel's life is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church. Burial will be private in Riverside Cemetery.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 and follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.