Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86)
Funeral for Dr. John W. Neumayr
Thomas Aquinas College, California
July 25, 2022
My name is Mary Bridget Neumayr. I am the oldest of Dr. Neumayr’s children. On behalf of our mother and my six siblings, I thank you for being here today. It brings great joy to our family to be at a chapel and campus that he loved and to see so many of his family, friends, former students, and colleagues. We appreciate all the outpouring of sympathy and prayers for him.
One of his early students recently sent us a copy of a letter our dad had written to her over 34 years ago, following the death of her father. It seems fitting to quote from that letter on this occasion. He said in the letter:
“Fathers, whether they know it or not, are like the polestar — a fixed point from which we take our bearings. They are counted on, in the normal course of things, to give stability to life.” He also said that “When my father died 10 years ago, even after a protracted illness prepared us all for his end, the world seemed to lose its fixed point. We are all children no matter what age. Indeed we get over the loss — but it is a loss nonetheless.”
For our family, as I believe for many here today, he was that fixed point and source of stability.
He was born in the Midwest, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was the second oldest in the family with two brothers and one sister. Around the time of World War II, his father was a traveling physician. When our dad was very young, his family moved to the West Coast, initially to Seattle, then to stops in different parts of California, including Yosemite. where their neighbor was the photographer Ansel Adams. The family settled in San Francisco just prior to the Second World War.
He attended elementary and high school in San Francisco. He starred in track during high school and at age 14 held a world record in the high jump; he also excelled in basketball at St. Ignatius High School. He attended Notre Dame on an athletic scholarship and played basketball; at Notre Dame he also coached the Notre Dame freshman basketball team while in graduate school, and recently he told me that he had considered pursing a coaching career.
He went to Notre Dame during its golden era and often recalled fondly the many fabled characters he met there. He studied philosophy as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Notre Dame. He subsequently studied law in San Francisco, explored a potential religious vocation with the Dominican Order in the Bay Area, and at the recommendation of his close friend Ronald McArthur, obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from Laval University in Quebec. His teaching began at Santa Clara University in 1962, and in 1966 he joined the faculty of the St. Mary’s College Integrated Program. In the following years, as you will hear more from others today, he, Dr. Ronald McArthur, Marc Berquist, Peter DeLuca, and others went on to found Thomas Aquinas College.
While teaching at Santa Clara, he met and married our mother, Bridget Cameron. They met on a blind date, to which he was late. She was British, a graduate of Oxford University, and had come to Berkeley through a Fulbright scholarship. While the couple who arranged the date broke up, our parents went on to a marriage of nearly 59 years. They had 7 children and 12 grandchildren.
Our Dad was our fixed point and a source of stability for our family for many reasons.
Growing up, he was actively engaged in our schooling, sports, hobbies, and interests. My own interest in law, government, and politics derives from his influence. From my earliest age I remember him discussing the state of the world and the importance of promoting truth in public life.
Our dad had extraordinarily wide interests. Athletics was a great passion in his life. He loved to play not only basketball, but also tennis, and later in life and up until the time that he passed away he was an avid golfer. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sports world. His passion for sports continued to the end of his life; as recently as this past January, he decided that it would be good to get to a Duke basketball game before Coach K retired, and he and my sister Anne and her husband, Brooks, made their way over to Wake Forest for a game with Duke. He told me once that he enjoyed watching sports because, unlike so many other things in life, it was something very real and objective.
He was a person with a deep curiosity about this world. He loved to travel throughout the country and internationally. I can recall vividly our cross-country road trips to national parks and a memorable trip to Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell.
He had an uncle, Bob Wallace, who was a kind of Renaissance man and was a great influence on our Dad and a person whom he emulated. Over his life, our Dad became a Renaissance man, too. He cultivated an interest in, among other things, history, art, literature, politics, Americana, science, botany, music, and topography. When he and my mother moved from Los Angeles last year to live in North Carolina with my youngest sister Anne, her husband, Brooks, and their family, our dad was willing to move, but not without all of his books. He brought back with him more than 50 boxes.
He was also a great conversationalist. While he was someone who was rarely early (unless for a tee time), when he went to any event, including a wedding or graduation or party, he was almost always the last person to leave, holding conversations late into the night.
He was also someone with a great sense of humor, which I believe he inherited largely from his mother. He loved jokes and anecdotes; his quick wit was one of the qualities that drew people to him. He was also very kind and thoughtful and performed unseen acts of charity. One of my brothers recently told me that he made a practice of helping distressed drivers, sometimes to the alarm of his children.
He was a devoted family man. He and our mother were approaching their 60th wedding anniversary and they were looking forward to the birth of another grandchild. He loved to hear from and visit with his seven children. As one of my sisters recently commented, he would “drop everything” when one of them called.
He loved Thomas Aquinas College and the founders, the faculty, the Board, its supporters, and the students; so many people associated with the college were so important to him. One of the happiest times of his life was coming back here last October for the 50th Anniversary Gala for the College. He loved seeing the campus flourish and seeing so many people with whom he had longstanding friendships, including many of the people here today.
The reason our Dad was such a fixed point for his family and for others, was perhaps more than anything else, that he was a person of deep faith. He was a daily communicant for much of his life and could frequently be found in the chapel after Mass praying. He was also a Third Order Dominican. Drawing on his deep faith, he could analyze the most fundamental and difficult questions, and provide sound, prudent advice on the most challenging topics. While he had such a full life and one that was so well lived, he never lost sight of our ultimate goal of being with God in the next world.
In that letter that I mentioned earlier that our Dad sent to his student over three decades ago, he provided some consolation that perhaps applies to all of us here today. He said to her of her father: “Now he is in the other world and because of that your heart and your thoughts will be there, too. Heaven will be that much closer to you for the rest of your days.”
We hope and pray that he is already enjoying his eternal reward, and that through him we will all be “that much closer to Heaven.” Thank you.