Civic leader, equestrian ‘Bess’ Neil, 99, dies

Posted 11/17/18

There was an outpouring of sympathy and appreciation Friday following the passing of an outstanding Cleveland matriarch and equestrian recognized nationally and world-wide.

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Civic leader, equestrian ‘Bess’ Neil, 99, dies


There was an outpouring of sympathy and appreciation Friday following the passing of an outstanding Cleveland matriarch and equestrian recognized nationally and world-wide.

Mary Elizabeth "Bess" Neil, 99,  passed away on Thursday at Signature Healthcare of Cleveland, after suffering a stroke earlier.

It was only a few weeks prior to her 100th birthday, on Dec. 22, 2018.

The family will join friends and loved ones, as well as members of the community, at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at The Museum Center at Five Points, located at 200 Inman St. It will be an opportunity to celebrate "Bess" Neil's life.

Ralph Buckner Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

She is survived by her daughters: Margot Neil Everhart and Anne Mayfield Neil; her grandson, John Blythe Everhart, and wife, Lou Everhart; granddaughter, Mary Key Everhart Waller and husband, Jordia Waller; and great-grandchildren: Mary Pearson Waller, Treutlen Elizabeth Waller, and Harrison Blythe Waller.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Pearson Blythe and Mary Summerfield Key Mayfield; her husband, David Hardee Neil;  her brother, Pearson Blythe "P.B." Mayfield; and son-in-law, J. Max Everhart.

She and her husband, David, established Blythewood Farms in 1942, and the farm, and "Bess" Neil, have won numerous honors, awards and accolades over the years. Bess and her daughters continued  with the breeding nursery after David's untimely death in 1965.

She was an active member of Cleveland Church of Christ, and also belonged to the Magnolia Garden Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and The Daughters of the Confederacy.

She not only had a tremendous love for her family, but also for Blythewood Farm, her beloved  American Saddlebred horses, which included many national and world champions, and also the Cleveland and Bradley County community.

"Bess" was intently involved, until recently, in equestrian organizations and competition nationally and world-wide, as well as the farm's own breeding program here in Cleveland.

She still  found time to support and be instrumental in many local projects, which she felt were needed by local residents. These included the Cleveland/Bradley County Public Library, the Museum Center at Five Points, and the Tri-State Exhibition Center off Interstate 75 at Exit 20.

Among her awards were:

1993 Bradley County Hall of Fame Agriculture Award;

1998 United Professional Horseman Association Hall of Fame;

1999 American Saddlebred Association Breeder of the Year;

2001 World Champion Audrey Gutridge Award;

2003 American Saddlebred Horse Association Lifetime Achievement Award;

2008 United States Equestrian Federation Lifetime Achievement Award;

Honored at the 2010 Museum Gala for her endowment donation; and

The 2014 Tennessee Sportsman Hall of Fame Award.

A number of people have expressed appreciation for her contributions to Cleveland and Bradley County.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis noted,  "Bess" Neil was one of those who quietly, and without fanfare, each day worked tirelessly to build their business, help others along the way, and make her community a better place.

"A national equestrian treasure, she could have lived anywhere, but she chose Bradley County, and we all are the beneficiaries of her vision and benevolence. Her work helped develop the Tri-State Exhibition Center, and she will always be remembered by me with fondness, as well as for her 'down to earth' personality. Thank you, ‘Bess’ Neil, and your family, for all that you bestowed upon Bradley County, with love and without seeking recognition. We truly are a better community because of people like Ms. Neil."

"Thank you for allowing us some comments on "Bess" Neil. We were very sorry to learn of her passing. She is truly a pioneering matriarch of our community, especially the equestrian community. Her farm was a favorite for us, and is depicted in a print that hangs in the mayor's office," said Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks and his wife, Kim.

"She will be greatly missed by all who knew her and we admired her spirit and contagious smile."

 Tom Rowland, Cleveland mayor emeritus,  said,  "I am so happy that Ms. 'Bess' passed my way. I have never known a kinder or gentle person in my life. She was always generous in conversion, listening intently to every word, to make sure the person talking to her was the most important. Sandra and I will miss her smile and kind words.

"No one excelled in horsemanship more, or loved horses more. She had a unique bond with them, like no other. Enjoy your 100th birthday in heaven Ms. 'Bess.' We miss you already."

John Hagler, chairman of the Library Board and a longtime friend, repeated some comments from his speech at the 2010 Museum gala honoring Ms. Neil.

"Bess has been riding horses for 85 years (more recently 95). She didn't ride the Old Gray Mare, or even Tennessee Walking Horses. She rode the spunkier American Saddlebred horses in their prime.

"She was twice the women's golf champion in Cleveland, but gave up golf, for horses. A smart lady!"


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