Today I want to help remember the life of a man who was beloved by countless people in the town of Westford and was a frequent contributor and good friend to Westford Patch: Victor "Cheerio" Neal.
In the spirit of our daily Five Things column, here are five memories that stick out for me from the time I, Westford Patch editor Andrew Sylvia, remember about Cheerio.
#1. I met Cheerio in Lexington at a Grey Ghosts playoff softball game. He had a Canon EOS 50D with a 300mm lens and he told me that he had gotten it from a $1,400 insurance payment he receieved back during the ice storm. Of course, the insurance policy wasn't on another camera, Cheerio just felt like getting a camera with the money he got back from his policy.
Westford Academy didn't win that game, I had to get a little bit more creative for my pictures than Cheerio did since I only had a Nikon D4100 with a 200mm and a 4.5/f, but I still remember his were better than mine and I was inspired to try and improve my skills behind a camera.
After that game, and after hearing all kinds of great things about his photography from other people, I e-mailed him to see if I could pay him for pictures he had taken from the 2011 Last Night event, and pay him for future coverage of games where he would be taking photos.
To this day, I still remember the e-mail with his answer. All it said was.... "NO!!!!!!!!!" Not sure if I had offended him, but I was definitely taken aback. I certainly hoped I didn't, he seemed like a nice guy and was a great photographer.
#2. Over time, he kept on seeing me at Westford Academy sporting events, and by around the time I took this picture of him in Newton as the Westford Academy girls' tennis were well on their way to a state title.
He said he had seen some of my photos, and thought they were pretty good. He apologized for his e-mail and said I could have any photos from his SmugMug account. Before too long, he'd be continually asking why I wasn't using more of his photos, and to be honest, he was just too prolific for me to keep up with.
#3. Cheerio took all these photos of Westford Academy sporting events due in large part to the fact that he was the bus driver for the girls sports teams.
However, whenever there wasn't an away game, he'd often be taking pictures at home games, for boys and girls' sports. Every single Westford Academy athlete knew his name. I would not be surprised if every fan in attendance at just about every Westford game knew his name.
He seemed to lift the spirts of the student athletes, regardless of what team they were on.
#4. However, he took loved to take photos of things other than sports as well. In fact, the last time I saw him, he was waiting with his grandkids to meet Adam Sandler outside of Merrill's Quarry.
Around that time, he was having some issues with his SmugMug account, and I volunteered to go over to his house and try and help him out, even though I knew very little about SmugMug itself.
Of course, I told him he could always put his pictures directly on Patch if he wanted, but that he was so valuable as a friend and colleague that even if he didn't, I would be honored if I could share his pictures with the world.
#5. Cheerio died on this week. He was 76 years old. Before he retired, he worked for Wang Laboratories and raised three children: Victor Jr., Patricia and Michelle. He had five grandchildren and one surviving brother.
Visiting hours for him will be held at St. Catherine's Rectory from 3 to 7 p.m. on Friday, and he will be put to rest at St. Catherine's Cemetary, following an 11 a.m. service at St. Catherine's Rectory.
Memorials may be made in his name, Victor "Cheerio" Neal, to Westford Academy Athletic Boosters, P.O. Box 481, Westford, MA 01886.