Dr. James Henry Neely was a favorite son of Tupelo. No one served their community better or was more loved than “The Good Doctor” who transitioned on June 23, 2020.
Neely was born in West Point, MS on August 8, 1932 to the union of Robert and Missouri Neely. He attended Mary Holmes College High School where he was the editor of the school newspaper, secretary of the senior class, president of the Athletic Club, and member- at-large of the Student Council. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1955 from Kentucky State University, formerly Kentucky State College, in Frankfort, Kentucky with a major in chemistry and a minor in math and French.
He received his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1960 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. After graduation, he entered the United States Air Force, where he earned the rank of Captain and served as a Flight Surgeon stationed in El Paso, Texas and in Belleville, Illinois.
After an honorable discharge from the military in 1964, he relocated to Tupelo to set up his medical practice, upon the encouragement of the late Dr. Walter A. Zuber.
He was the first African American doctor to have full hospital privileges of admitting and treating patients at the North Mississippi Medical Center. He diligently served his community in medical practice for 35 years until his retirement in 1999.
He was a member of Trinity United Presbyterian Church in West Point.
Dr. Neely was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, and a Life Member of the NAACP.
He held memberships in numerous other organizations, including the National Medical Association, the Black Business Association of Mississippi, and the Henry Hampton Elks Lodge. In the 1970s, he served as a member of the Board of Directors of Community Development Foundation (CDF) and as a member of the Northside Beautification Committee, along with Mr. Ulysses Mayhorn and Mrs. W. A. Zuber.
A project that he was very proud of was planting pink crepe myrtle trees along North Spring Street (between Jackson Street and Franklin Street) in Tupelo, which still bloom beautifully each year.
His extensive community and civic involvement included Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boy Scouts of America, Tupelo UNCF, Good Samaritan Health Services, and St. Paul Outreach Boys Home.
Dr. Neely was honored with numerous awards during the course of his notable career, including:
• Mississippi Medical and Surgical Award – Practitioner of the Year (1982)
• Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Nu Sigma Omega Chapter – Distinguished Service Award
• Meharry Medical College Distinguished Service Award for 25 years of service (1985)
• The Black Business Association Legend Award for Outstanding Community Service (1999)
• UNCF Tupelo Lee County Committee – Recognition Award for Outstanding Dedication and Leadership in the field of Medicine
• Magnolia Bar Association – Harriet Tubman Award (2001)
• The Dr. Martin Luther King 2001 Drum Major Award presented by the MLK Holiday Committee
He was married to the former Elaine Kilgore of West Point for 66 years. He said that this was one of his greatest accomplishments.
He is survived by his wife, Elaine; son, Brian Henry (Shari) Neely of Tupelo, MS; daughter, Patricia Elaine (James) Dorsey, of Saltillo, MS; four grandchildren – Lesa Patricia (Hurai Vazquez) Mayer of Decatur, GA, Ivy Elainea Neely, of Las Vegas, NV, Julia C. Neely of Tampa, FL, and James Henry Dorsey of Saltillo, MS; five great-grandchildren – Zakary Mayer, Dash Mayer, Alana Sartin, Prince Vazquez, and Sterling Neely; two sisters, Dr. Erie Jean (James) Wilson of Miami, FL and Robbie Ann Jones of Starkville, MS; one brother, Thomas Allen (Mildred) Neely of Lompoc, CA; and a host of nieces and nephews.