A roast and toast of Fred NeilBaltimore native has worked with sports icons
Fred Neil celebrated his 80th birthday with a benefit for the Delaware Manufactured Homeowners Association, an organization close to his heart.
The Nov. 25 event also turned out to a roast and toast of Neil, who dished out some jabs of his own when he took over the microphone at the Indian River Fire Department.
Neil, who lives near Dover and serves as volunteer public relations officer for DMHOA, moved to Delaware from Baltimore where he had a distinguished career in radio and television sports broadcasting and producing. He has rubbed shoulders with many of Baltimore's sports icons, including the Colts' Johnny Unitas and the Orioles' Brooks Robinson, both in their respective Hall of Fames.
He was news and and sports director of radio station WCBM in Baltimore where he produced the play-by-play of Colts' games. He also produced, wrote and co-hosted a radio show with Unitas, a live locker room show with Jimmy Orr and a show featuring Ordell Braase and Tom Matte. All are well-known Colts players in the 1950s and 1960s.
He later produced a show pairing sportscaster, NBA coach and referee Charley Eckman and Colts' Hall of Famer Art Donovan. Neil later wrote a book with Eckman called “It's a Very Simple Game. Life and Times of Charley Eckman.”
He also teamed up with Robinson on WCBM radio for Orioles' play-by-play.
His association with sports is only part of Neil's story. He served as press officer for Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, was president of the Baltimore news and sports reporters organization, president of the Maryland Press Club and worked for the Maryland Department of Education in the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Even though the Colts left Baltimore in March 1984, Neil and his wife, Dawn, still have their hearts in Baltimore as avid Ravens fan.
Most people were not aware that Neil has appeared in dozens of amateur theater productions throughout his life.
Emcee Norm Short, a radio personality on WXDE, Cool 101.3 and Eagle 97.7, called Neil a “Chuck Thompson wanna-be.” Thompson was the long-time TV voice of the Baltimore Orioles and Colts.
“Fred took up jogging because he wanted to hear some heavy breathing,” Short quipped. “He's so old, he got his start in silent radio.”
Dixie Boucher, one of Neil's roasters, said she tried to invite some Neil's sports friends to the event but didn't have any luck. “I wanted to contact these people and see how important Fred was,” she said.
She said many had passed away and those who were still alive did not recognize his name. She added that when she tried to look up his name on-line, a song writer and chiropractor came up.
Neil reminded Boucher that the Colts' mascot horse was named Dixie.
Sussex County Clerk of the Peace John Brady said Neil has helped him learn to deal with the media. “It's an honor to be in your presence; I've learned from the best,” he said.
After listening to several speakers talk about the joys of turning 80 years old, Neil added fuel to the fire of his roast.
He said when he retired and moved to a manufactured home park near Dover, he soon learned he was looked on as trailer trash. That set off a diatribe of one-liners.
“But that's not true,” he said. “I do not allow my 12-year-old granddaughter to smoke in front of her children at the dinner table.”
“And we have only brought back more than we took to the dump once.”
Neil received accolades from Kent County Levy Court, the Maryland Senate, President Barrack Obama, the Delaware House and Senate and a letter from U.S. Sen. Tom Carper who recognized Neil's lifetime of achievement. Kent Levy Court Commissioner Allan Angel presented Neil with a key to Kent County.
DMHOA President Ed Speraw called Neil a perfect public relations man. He said Neil is part of a team of dedicated DMHOA volunteers who work to better the lives of those who live in manufactured homes on leased land.