Friday, July 15, 2011

Bay Neal

My first memory of Bay Neal was from the mortgage insurance heyday, 1984-ish. At the time, I was a young, impressionable branch manager for a medium-sized wholesale mortgage banker. The company I worked for was a mortgage player wannabe, trying hard to be up-and-coming in the mortgage business. On this memorable occasion, I, other b.m.’s, and the company’s self-important E.V.P’s, were being wined and dined by Ticor Mortgage Insurance Company at The Abbey Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. This was an over-the-top, extravagant dinner, so typical of the times, during which Ticor representatives intended to extract a commitment from my mortgage company for a high volume of insurable mortgage product. Ticor was a rival of Verex, a high-powered mortgage insurer and Bay’s employer. Evidently, Ticor’s primary purpose that night was to convince my bosses to choose Ticor over Verex.

Although I was middle management and not one of the decision makers, I overheard the names, “Bay Neal” and “Verex” spoken at the other end of the long dining table many times that evening. From the gossip, I ascertained that a Verex bigshot named Bay Neal had recently been gaining momentum in the fight to get my employer’s business. The choice of one of the most expensive restaurants in Atlanta, reserving the wine cellar for our private dining room, providing chauffeured transportation to and from our hotel so that we could be free to consume as much libation as we pleased, was to impress so highly that our bosses would certainly feel obligated to make a major commitment to Ticor. I’m certain they thought that there would be no way that Bay Neal or Verex could compete with that shindig!

After the four hour, multi-course dinner, our group of a few dozen mortgage bankers and mortgage insurers who were now the best of friends, staggered outside to hail our limos. …And, there, standing under the streetlight in front of the restaurant, opening the door of his luxury car for the president of one of the biggest mortgage banking firms in the country (a real mortgage player) was Bay Neal. I will never forget that moment. There he was with his white-blonde beach boy haircut, deep-water tanned face, and bright blue eyes, smiling broadly with those flashy pearly whites of his. He didn’t say it aloud, but I heard him think, “GOTCHA!” What he actually said was, “Fancy meeting you here! How was dinner, guys? Ours was great! See ya!”

That was Bay. Always a step ahead of everyone else, always smarter, always knowing what you were thinking before you did. Years after that memorable moment, after he and Barbara and Jim and I became close, good, good friends, I came to know that he was more than just a brilliant mind behind a handsome face. He was kind, thoughtful, and gentle. Bay was one of the last true gentlemen on this planet. And he was a loving person. Of course, we all know how much he loved Barbara and his human family, but he also dearly loved his kitties! A man who is devastated when his cat dies is a rare man who truly has a big, soft heart. …And, funny! He would come out with the most hilarious one-liners that would just slay me!

I will miss him, his wit, his smile, his heart. I am very, very appreciative of the fact of his friendship and will treasure the great memories that he gave Jim and me. The world is now a lesser place.

Karen Lee

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