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Robert "Mac" McNeel

1917 - 2012, Santa Barbara

Robert “Mac” McNeel, age 94, passed away peacefully in Santa Barbara on the morning of February 3, 2012. He was born in Spokane, Washington, on December 29, 1917 to Charles Arthur and Anna Hose McNeel. His mother died when he was about 4 years old, so Mac was raised by his father, Charles, who worked at the Pinkerton Detective Agency and then as a reporter for the Spokane Chronicle. He had an older sister Helen Jean and later, a younger brother and sister: Ted and Ruth Ann. In the 1920’s when Charles couldn’t afford to keep his family together, Mac and Helen Jean were sent to the Spokane Childrens’ Home, a large, dark foreboding orphanage. Although Mac ran away several times, he was always found and brought back. He was also a bit of a daredevil, climbing out of the second story dorm window and walking around on the narrow ledge, to the delight and awe of the other boys and to the consternation of the Matron. When his dad rented a room at the local YMCA, Mac stayed with him and learned to swim in the Y pool. Mac became an avid swimmer and instructor at the Natatorium Park pool in Spokane. After various jobs as a teenager including Red Cross swimming instructor, roustabout in a logging camp, Natatorium pool manager, and as assistant/driver for several elderly gentlemen, Mac enrolled in the University of Washington where he was a member of the varsity swim team. Fascinated by flying since he was 10 years old, Mac joined the Army Air Corps (predecessor of today’s Air Force) in January 1942. Although he dreamed of being a fighter pilot, he was assigned to multiengine aircraft and became a pilot instructor for those who would fly B-17s and B-29s in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War II.

In Las Vegas during the summer of 1943 Mac met Joan Davidson who was learning to fly in order to join the Women’s Air Service Patrol (WASPs). They fell in love and married in April 1944. They were married for 67 years and raised two daughters, Sandy of Pinole, CA and Linda of Santa Barbara, CA. They resided in North Hollywood, CA for 57 years where he worked as a salesman and manager for companies providing fine meat for restaurants and hotels.

Mac and Joan loved to travel and had many wonderful adventures meeting people throughout the U.S., and on trips or cruises to the United Kingdom, Baltic states, Mediterranean, Caribbean and South Pacific. Mac also loved to visit air shows throughout California and farther afield, where he took every opportunity to photograph WW I and WW II aircraft. He was a member of the Quiet Birdmen and many of his fellow aviators have beautiful aircraft photographs that he carefully and creatively framed. He was a life-long wood-worker and was especially pleased to frame photographs for family and friends.

Mac also enjoyed writing and was very excited when the following was printed in his local Quiet Birdman (QB) newsletter, then reprinted in the national QB magazine.

“Joan, Sandy and I had traveled to Scotland on vacation. While touring around the Highlands for a few days I had come to appreciate the popularity and ready availability of my favorite brand of Scottish beverage, “The Famous Grouse”. After turning in the car, we boarded a ferry at Oban for the five-hour trip to the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, where we were to participate in a gathering of my family Scottish clan. The crossing was smooth at first. With a glass of my favored beverage in my hand, I was comfortably ensconced on a bar stool in the pub on the smallish ship, when we unexpectedly ran into rough seas. Suddenly, the ship rolled, and I flew off the bar stool, sailed across the room and slammed against some furniture that was bolted down. When I picked myself up, feeling little pain at the time, I saw that not only did I still have the glass in hand, but most of the whisky was also still in it. Later, I did start to hurt, to find out that I had fractured three ribs and developed a hernia.”

Mac was predeceased by his beloved Joan, who died in October 2011. He is survived by his daughters Linda “Mac” McNeel (Douglas Moore) and Sandy McNeel (Alastair Brown), and his granddaughter Sierra McNeel-Moore, as well as his sisters Helen Jean Wiener of Falls Church, Virginia and Ruth Cromer of Spokane, Washington. His family is very thankful to the wonderful staff and community of residents at Heritage House in Santa Barbara, where Mac and Joan spent their last 4 years. Mac received loving and thoughtful care, with every effort expended to allow him the independence he cherished. His survivors also wish to thank the Visiting Nurses and Hospice of Santa Barbara for their care and assistance during Mac’s last 6 months.

A celebration of Mac’s life will be held at Heritage House, 5200 Hollister Ave, Santa Barbara on March 9, 2012 at 2:00pm. Additional details can be obtaining by contacting Linda (“Mac”) McNeel (805-963-8970) or Sandy McNeel (510-758-1076).

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