Thomas Francis Neil, 71, passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 23, at his home in Warrenton, Virginia.
Tom was born May 6, 1949, the son of Clyde G. and Tina N. Neil of Fairfax, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture and Plant Pathology at the University of Georgia in 1971. He went on to enjoy a life with his hands in the earth – planting and nurturing nursery stock, dreams, and a loving family.
In 1975, Tom founded White Oak Nurseries in Manassas. His business acumen and love of the work elevated the commercial landscape design/build operation into a premier resource for the Northern Virginia area. Later, the business moved to Catharpin and expanded with the addition of American Home Landscape to address the residential markets.
Tom faced a major health crisis in 2004, diagnosed with Stage 4 tonsil cancer as he turned 55. He retired several years following recovery, and happily turned all of his attentions to his family and the small farm he considered a bit of Heaven. He began growing nursery material, mostly his favorite boxwood varieties, sprinkled with hollies and specialty Japanese maples. The joke at home was that any plant he did not sell became Tom’s “pet.” The farm is a tribute to his cultivating skills and his love of working the land, and many of his “pets” proudly grace the property. When his son, Adam, retired from the Air Force in 2014, Tom welcomed him joyfully to farm operations. Things expanded rapidly, and Happy Cock Farm became a place friends and strangers could find fresh eggs, chickens, garden products - and fun. Over the years, his daughters, Sabrina and Morgan, and favorite daughter-in-law, Laura, leaned on his love of animals to add ponies and horses, many dogs, cats, pigs, and rabbits to the farm. Chickens begat turkeys, geese, ducks and more recently, goats and miniature donkeys were added to round out the entertainment factor. Never quite finished, Tom and Adam worked in making improvements (and never-ending repairs) to the operation, and loved tweaking dump finds into useful items to be used around the farm. His woodworking shop allowed him to play in bad weather and kept him out of trouble.
Tom would say his life was “all good.” His retired days began with a leisurely breakfast, spiritual readings, a cursory look at crazy news stories, and then he
would pop on his hat and say, “Kiss me, I’m going farming!” The fruits of his labors often overwhelmed his wife but nothing was ever wasted. A relaxing evening found him searching Craigslist’s farm section or honing his grilling techniques while sipping a good bourbon with family and friends. Saturday evening Mass followed by dinner with his wife and family, and Sunday breakfast with friends ended and began perfect weeks.
He left nothing on the table in any part of his life; his interests were wide and varied. Tom and Nicki had great fun searching out little homes needing attention and turning them into rental properties. Working with each other and with talented friends made for the best of days. Tom enjoyed his motorcycle, golf, fishing and hunting and all things outdoors, and building anything – especially his own home - brought him fulfillment. He gathered great peace and happiness with his practice of karate (7th degree black belt) and his long and loving friendship with Sensei Arthur Drago (Front Royal Karate Dojo). He took joy in mentoring his grandchildren in the discipline.
Friday night was Tom’s poker night – an opportunity to spend time with men whose friendships he cherished. He planned each game by starting with the Sunday question to his wife, “Poker Friday?” followed by, “What shall we serve?” His poker friends became golfing buddies, too, and have been a major support group in times of need.
Tom was noted for his integrity, his humble ways and generous, joyful spirit. His quiet charity was a treasure to his wife. As one young man aptly put it, he was ‘the model of what a man should be;’ his fatherly leadership and mentoring skills were kindly bestowed on any in need. His legacy will be found in his simple acts of compassion, in the love and respect he held for family and friends, and his overarching love of God.
A devout Catholic, he trusted his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. He had a special affection for Saint Faustina Kowalska and drew great comfort from Christ’s promise of Divine Mercy. His 3 pm alarm stopped him daily - no matter where he was or with whom - to take a few moments for prayer. He was active in his parish of St. John the Evangelist, where he served as an usher on Saturday evenings, and was member of the Knights of Columbus.
Tom leaves behind his most devoted and loving wife, Nicola Christine (Nicki). Married September 11, 1971, they were each other’s best friend and supporter. He was justifiably proud of his children, Thomas Adam and his wife, Laura, Sabrina Christine and her husband, Lance Beck, of Orlando, FL., and Morgan Noel and her husband, Carter Bruce, of Warrenton. Six grandchildren filled his heart with love and pride. He leaves as well a loving sister, Judy A. Rojak (Stephen) of McKinney, TX and a brother, Robert. Anthony J. Sala (Beverly) of Myrtle Beach, SC, Michelle M. Lesinski (Robert) of Fairfax, and Sabrina M. Dohm (Bill) of Broad Run, VA mourn the loss of their brother-in-law who brought so much laughter into their lives. Nieces and nephews rounded out a most special family.
The family thanks Dr. Anita Maybach for her dedicated care of Tom over the years. We thank as well our faithful priests who served as pastors, counselors, confessors, sounding boards, and friends, especially Fr. James Gould, Fr. Mark Moretti, Fr. John Riley, and Fr. Charles Smith, who so lovingly served Thomas’ final needs.
A wake will be held at Moser Funeral Home in Warrenton on Tuesday, January 5 from 3-5 PM and from 6-8 PM. A Funeral Mass of Christian Burial will be offered on January 6, 11 AM, at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions would be gratefully accepted at
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
P O Box 3539
Warrenton, VA 20188
Warrenton Pregnancy Center
400 Holiday Court Suite101
Warrenton, VA 20186
Food for the Poor
6401 Lyons Road
Coconut Creek, FL 33073